Row with Astrazeneca: an incompetent EU?

Tensions eased in the row between the EU and Astrazeneca over the weekend. The vaccine manufacturer announced that it would deliver several million more doses to the EU by the end of March, albeit only half of the amount originally promised. Commentators lambaste the EU's performance in this crucial matter.

Open/close all quotes
Jyllands-Posten (DK) /

Just what Eurosceptics were waiting for

The EU's disastrous performance is particularly jarring in view of the UK's successful vaccination rollout, Jyllands-Posten notes:

“It comes as no surprise that Brexit supporters see this as confirmation of their view that Britain is better off outside the EU. And this attitude could quickly spread among EU sceptics. Confidence in the EU doesn't exactly increase when Ursula von der Leyen starts an open row with vaccine suppliers and starts wondering whether to resort to the ultimate protectionist instrument, the export ban. ... Europe is nothing without the European Union, but if the current chaos continues, millions more Europeans are more likely to develop immunity to the EU - long before they get their first Covid vaccination.”

Ilta-Sanomat (FI) /

Export restrictions not a good idea

Ilta-Sanomat warns against threatening vaccine manufacturers with export restrictions:

“Of course the EU must defend its claims, but by preventing vaccines from crossing borders it would be shooting itself in the foot. This would hardly increase production or delivery of vaccines in the EU, but it could well drive production out of the EU and boost deliveries to regions outside the bloc. 'Solving' vaccine shortages by disrupting production would be just as stupid as opposing coronavirus restrictions by breaking them and thereby making the epidemic worse.”

Der Spiegel (DE) /

This isn't a summer sale!

Spiegel columnist Markus Feldenkirchen is losing patience with the EU:

“How can it be so haphazard in procuring the key resource in the worst crisis since the Second World War, as if this were a summer sale, a fun bit of bargain-hunting? ... For every handful of euros saved, people are dying these days. The EU is providing 750 billion euros to mitigate the effects of the pandemic, but to put an end to it through vaccination just under three billion. Something like that is hard to explain. ... But instead of apologising to the 448 million citizens of the European Union, an esprit de corps dominates in Brussels as well as in Berlin. They pin the blame on the manufacturers. ... The EU has apparently long since achieved herd immunity, but unfortunately only against criticism.”

The Sunday Times Ireland (IE) /

Break ranks with Brussels for the good of the citizens

Ireland's government should take matters into it own hands, The Sunday Times Ireland advises:

“The EU's vaccine performance has been dire, and will cost further lives and livelihoods. The Irish government must do a better job of defending our interests. That might mean asking the British for surplus supplies. This should be considered, but probably won't be, because we would have to swallow our national pride and breach EU solidarity. For our government, indefinite lockdown may be preferable to annoying the European Commission, or not being seen to wear the EU jersey.”

El País (ES) /

Waving the EU flag is not enough

Wolfgang Münchau, the head of think tank Eurointelligence, calls in El País for a reform of the EU treaties:

“What the failed vaccination strategy and the monetary union have in common is their legal and institutional overload. In my opinion, this should be the EU's number one priority in this decade. If we really care about the future of European integration we should not wave the blue flag and shield the institutions from criticism. We should not swallow the argument that it is difficult to change the treaties, but seek practical alternatives. Let us bear in mind that an overloaded system can explode.”

Berlingske (DK) /

Member states were too stingy

The scramble for vaccine deliveries is degenerating into a farce, Berlingske sighs:

“Several EU countries have themselves contributed to slowing the pace by criticising the EU Commission's purchasing strategy in the 27-country Steering Committee. At the same time, the EU Commission was forced to buy cheaper than the US and Britain, for example, because member countries wanted to keep spending down. Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said last week that the EU was now more 'on the ball' in acquiring the vaccines and also agreed to provide more money if necessary. The only problem is that we should have signed the agreements that are bringing us these jabs half a year ago.”

Corriere del Ticino (CH) /

Democratic oversight would have prevented this

Brussels' unauthorised action is far too prone to error, Corriere del Ticino criticises:

“Clearly the European Commission was duped by Pfizer and Astrazeneca when it payed them umpteen million euros as a 'contribution to research costs' in exchange for extensive supplies of Covid-19 vaccine for which there were no guarantees. ... If the Commission were subject to real democratic scrutiny by the European Parliament, someone would surely have noticed this and asked how we could be sure that the vaccines would be delivered on time. ... But not only is there no such oversight - since the European Parliament is basically just a review chamber - but the contracts were also kept secret to protect them from public scrutiny.”

Avvenire (IT) /

Governments are not good investors

The EU is behaving as if problems with pharmaceutical companies were a new thing, Avvenire fumes:

“Ever since Aids, anyone who has followed the battle for access to essential medicines knows the script only too well. ... This time history is repeating itself on a global scale. ... In the race for the vaccine, governments have signed secret contracts with companies without setting out conditions for access to the vaccine that are based on public health criteria and without looking beyond their own borders. Disregarding the role they should play as good investors, European countries have engaged in a risky and unprecedented practice of leaving it to public institutions to purchase goods and services. ... This ineptitude is worrying.”

Õhtuleht (EE) /

With sanctions if necessary

The EU must show its strength in its row with the corporations, Õhtuleht warns:

“Of course you can argue that it's a market economy in which those who are first in line and willing to pay more are served faster. But the pandemic is driving states to take more forceful steps to protect their interests, as was seen last spring during the mask shortage. ... What should be done if the vaccine isn't delivered, or the manufacturer sells it elsewhere despite having pocketed your money? In that case it's the EU's duty to assert itself and demand that the contract be fulfilled. ... There's hardly a chance of nationalisations or requisitioning, but if an agreement can't be reached in any other way, the EU can impose export restrictions or other sanctions on factories within the EU.”

Kauppalehti (FI) /

A lesson for future pandemics

The EU must become more self-sufficent when it comes to vaccine and medicine supplies, Kauppalehti demands:

“Of course we can criticise the EU's slow and uncoordinated action in the Covid crisis. But at the same time we mustn't forget that without the EU's muscle small countries like Finland would be even weaker in the current competition for vaccines. The Covid crisis has tragically highlighted the vulnerability of the EU in terms of supply security. The EU has set itself the goal of becoming autonomous in strategic sectors. The supply of medicines and the production of vaccines must be one of them. We must be better prepared for the next pandemic.”

Wiener Zeitung (AT) /

From good to bad

The pharmaceutical companies are gambling away their credibility, observes the Wiener Zeitung:

“The vaccine manufacturers, until recently hailed as the 'saviours in the pandemic', are now suddenly once again caught up in the media hyped cliché about profit-hungry 'big pharma': the murky background to the in some cases massive cuts in deliveries to the EU has brought about this swift transformation of image. Politicians have even uttered the dreadful words 'export ban', only to quickly correct themselves. We already had this once at the very beginning of the coronavirus crisis, when states blocked deliveries of medical protective equipment. This dispute between the EU and the pharma companies could get ugly.”

Jutarnji list (HR) /

If you lie once ...

The row between the EU and Astrazeneca could dangerously weaken public confidence in the vaccine, warns Jutarnji List:

“One doesn't believe the data about the quantities being produced. One doesn't believe the claims that production capacity has been reduced by the floods in Wales or the fire in India. One also doesn't believe that they didn't sell the vaccine for more than the production costs, which is around 1.50 euros per dose. If you lie once, you won't ever be believed again. ... Irrespective of the EU's current war with the vaccine manufacturers, it must be explained that this is about money, prices, competition, and this is bad and immoral. But this row is less dangerous than doubts about the quality, effectiveness and safety of the vaccine.”

Le Soir (BE) /

Keep a cool head

Le Soir calls for a reasoned and calm attitude in the vaccine dispute between the EU and the pharmaceutical industry:

“Of course, pressure must continue to be exerted on the manufacturers, and their practices, delays and changes of strategy must be questioned. Nevertheless, every effort must be made to keep a cool head and ensure that the vaccination procedure is not further hindered by panic and nonsense. Everyone has a right to the vaccine, and the best way to guarantee this right is to remain calm - politically, economically and individually.”

Die Presse (AT) /

Whatever it takes

Die Presse finds the EU's failure to bring the pandemic under control incomprehensible:

“On his second day in office, Joe Biden issued a decree ordering all the departments of his administration to oblige US companies to produce masks, tests and protective equipment on the basis of wartime economic laws. On top of that he's earmarked 50 billion dollars for a testing programme and 20 billion dollars for a vaccination programme. One hundred million vaccinations within 100 days is his goal. ... What's stopping the EU from developing a similarly positive vaccine patriotism? Why doesn't it take 20 billion euros from the 750-billion-euro recovery fund and invest them in boosting vaccine production? Why not force pharmaceutical companies to outsource vaccine production if they have capacity problems, as they claim?”

The Spectator (GB) /

It never pays to be stingy

The EU's penny-pinching is to blame for the vaccine crisis, says The Spectator:

“From the start, the EU decided the main issue was getting value for money, and clamping down on 'unfair competition' between countries. But the real challenge was cracking the science, and then ramping up production at lightning speed. The money was largely irrelevant, and as with so many challenges, the more you spent, the more likely you were to get results - even if there was some waste along the way. The EU is trying to shift the blame to Pfizer and AstraZeneca. But in reality, this is a crisis of its own making.”

Deutschlandfunk (DE) /

Transparency instead of mistrust

Export restrictions are not a good idea, says Deutschlandfunk:

“So far, the Covid vaccine project has been supported by a large transnational alliance of innovative startups, universities, big corporations and medium-sized companies. Blocking this collaboration would be counterproductive. It won't advance the huge vaccination project if politics and the pharmaceutical industry get each others' backs up. On the other hand, big pharma should at least deign to provide more explanations, a little more communication, a little more transparency when promises are not kept. What Pfizer and Astrazeneca are giving us now is not enough.”

Hospodářské noviny (CZ) /

We can't expect miracles

In Hospodářské noviny's view the problems with vaccine deliveries are also a result of exaggerated expectations:

“The EU ordered hundreds of millions of vaccine doses and thus did more than any individual state could have done. But this also fuelled massive expectations that exceed the possibilities of manufacturing and logistics. ... There are huge hopes that the vaccines will produce a miracle. Politicians have made mistakes here too - and not for the first time in the pandemic. But the production and distribution of vaccines is a global and unprecedented challenge for humanity. It would surprising if everything were to go smoothly.”

Der Tagesspiegel (DE) /

Shameless criticism

The Tagesspiegel is left speechless at how the EU Commission is trying to pass the buck onto the manufacturers:

“It borders on shamelessness. To put it mildly. ... Who is getting how much and when? How many doses are available? How many refrigerated containers are there? Who's taking care of transport? The requirements are not only national. Which is precisely why it's the EU's job to take care of them. ... In a concerted and concentrated effort of military precision. ... What the pharma industry has pulled off, with groundbreaking inventions at breakneck speed, is a wonder. But what the EU is doing makes you shake your head in wonder. And that's putting it politely.”

Wiener Zeitung (AT) /

Europe must get its own act together

Brussels is not reacting quickly enough, writes the Wiener Zeitung:

“At the Brussels level you often hear complaints - and they are often justified - that in the member states primal political instincts are at work that give priority to quick successes over the long-term perspective, which by contrast is focused on the wellbeing of Europe as a whole. ... Perhaps the vaccine manufacturers also sense that time is not of the essence for Europe. There are reports that while neither the US nor Britain are facing delays in deliveries, the EU certainly is. ... The recurrent nightmare of the EU must be that some states and too many citizens are plagued by the suspicion that it might be better to get through the crisis without Brussels than with it.”

Večernji list (HR) /

Who pays more, gets more

Večernji list suspects foul play:

“The fact is that the EU has been tricked, but not enough evidence has yet amassed to expose this fraud of the century. There are suspicions that Pfizer's delayed deliveries and heavy cuts in vaccine supplies are somehow connected to the election of the new US President Joe Biden, whose main slogan in the election campaign and after he was sworn into office was that he would wage a swift and widespread battle against Covid-19. ... Another striking aspect is that Israel is still being supplied with Pfizer and Moderna vaccines even though it has already vaccinated a third of its population. ... Probably also because the Israelis are making no bones about paying Pfizer 30 euros per dose instead of the 15 euros the EU is offering.”