Following their initial Covid-19 vaccine export ban, the EU and its member states, Germany included, continue to block the global expansion of vaccine production by not temporally waiving patents. The discussion of waiving patents, which would allow global vaccine production in significantly more production facilities, will be on the agenda of the next meeting of the relevant WHO committee (the “TRIPS Council”). Berlin and Brussels continue to oppose the idea. Instead, declaring it needs the vaccine itself, last week, the EU Commission decided to block the export of 250,000 doses of the AstraZeneca from Italy to Australia – setting a global precedent. Like the introduction of export controls in late January, this measure has been met with massive protests worldwide. According to observers, Brussels is pursuing this rigid course at the behest of EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and “her German entourage.” Von der Leyen, in turn, is acting under heavy pressure from Berlin.
Following their initial Covid-19 vaccine export ban, the EU and its member states, Germany included, continue to block the global expansion of vaccine production by not temporally waiving patents. The discussion of waiving patents, which would allow global vaccine production in significantly more production facilities, will be on the agenda of this week’s meeting of the relevant WHO committee (the “TRIPS Council”). Berlin and Brussels continue to oppose the idea. Instead, declaring it needs the vaccine itself, last week, the EU Commission decided to block the export of 250,000 doses of the AstraZeneca from Italy to Australia – setting a global precedent. Like the introduction of export controls in late January, this measure has been met with massive protests worldwide. According to observers, Brussels is pursuing this rigid course at the behest of EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and “her German entourage.” Von der Leyen, in turn, is acting under heavy pressure from Berlin.
The introduction of export controls, decided in late January by the German-led EU Commission also under pressure from Berlin, had already triggered mass protests worldwide. The Director-General of the World Health Organization WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, strongly criticized Brussels, noting that such measures were costing precious time in the fight against the pandemic. The International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), headquartered in Paris, has warned that limiting vaccine exports could have “devastating implications.” Canada’s government had procured explicit assurances that EU measures would not affect vaccine shipments to Canada. In a joint statement, in mid-February, business groups from Australia, Brazil, Chile, Canada, New Zealand, South Korea, Turkey and the USA pointed out that the new, time consuming export controls “risk disrupting the complex logistics behind the distribution of vaccines, including ultra-cold storage requirements in some cases.” Defending itself against all accusations at the time, Brussels declared that the controls were intended only to prevent misuse and that it definitely ruled out all export bans.
“Torn Up Rule Book”
Since the EU – in breach of all its commitments – imposed its first export ban last Thursday, worldwide protests have again been raised. Hefty criticism first came from Australia, which was directly affected. The president of the Australian Medical Association, Dr Omar Khorshid, called the ban “disappointing,” Finance Minister Simon Birmingham said that he was not surprised “that some countries would tear up the rule book.” Canberra is now pushing the EU to immediately “review the decision” – albeit without success. ICC General Secretary John Denton called the measure “very dangerous” and pointed out that vaccine production relies on vulnerable global supply chains. As soon as an affected state defends itself against an export ban and retaliates, for example, by prohibiting the export of vaccine components, a vicious circle with devastating consequences cannot be ruled out, Denton warned. Despite all the criticism, Brussels is planning to extend the export controls that were initially set to expire at the end of March, to continue through June of this year. Meanwhile, sanctions are being discussed against vaccine producers, who, for whatever reasons, announce delays in their deliveries.
The President and her Entourage
In light of worldwide growing discontent with Brussels, pressure on the leadership of the commission around President Ursula von der Leyen is increasing within the EU. The French journalist and EU expert Jean Quatremer, who has been reporting from Brussels for the past three decades, raised sharp criticism, following the introduction of export controls. The fact that the commission initially sought to introduce controls on the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland had been “an incredible mistake,” which of course only happened “because the German President of the Commission communicated exclusively with her German entourage.” On the weekend, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung ascertained that there “is unease” in the EU over the fact “that Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s entourage, who had insisted on the export mechanism at all costs, wants to largely be able to freely decide on export bans” – as in the current case. “Only when they want to halt the export ban of an EU member country, will they need the accord of the other commissioners.” Michael Link, spokesperson on European Affairs for the FDP Parliamentary Group and former Minister of State in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, on the other hand, said that the leadership of the commission around von der Leyen, was under “pressure from Berlin,” which had contributed to the recent, heavily criticized decisions.
The World’s Vaccine Suppliers
With the vaccine export ban, Berlin and Brussels have lunged forward in the aftermath of their failed plan to strike a pose as global vaccine suppliers. Back on May 1, of last year, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen declared that Brussels seeks to insure that vaccines “will be deployed to every corner of the world at a fair and affordable price.” “That is exactly what we are working on.” Again in mid-December, von der Leyen had asserted that the EU “will be able to support our neighbors and partners around the world, so that no one is left behind.” January 26, Chancellor Angela Merkel explained the reasoning behind the plan in her “Davos Dialog” video to the World Economic Forum: “the question of, who on the planet will receive which vaccine and when, will naturally create new ties,” “because the memory of those helped in such an emergency situation is much more vivid, than it would be under better circumstances.” While the EU, which now is not even in a position to provide vaccine for its own population, is reverting to refusing vaccines to other countries, above all Russia, China and India (german-foreign-policy.com reported) are not only supplying vaccines for their own populations, but have long since been producing vaccines for export.
Profit Rather than Life
Alongside its first ban on exporting vaccines, the German government continues to block the waiving its Covid-19 vaccine patents. Last week, Director-General of the WHO, Tedros, again repeated his appeal for waiving – if necessary, even temporarily – the patents. To overcome the pandemic, all available vaccine producing capacities must be used and additional ones rapidly created, explained Tedros. It is thus necessary that all potential producers have access to the formulas for the production of vaccines, at least for the duration of the pandemic. This is already happening to a limited extent. AstraZeneca have shared their licenses so that vaccines can be manufactured at multiple sites, including India’s Serum Institute, Sinopharm and Sinovac have transferred production of their vaccines, for example to the G42 enterprise in Abu Dhabi and the Instituto Butatan in São Paulo, also Moscow’s Gamaleya Research Institute will have its vaccine produced by partner companies in other countries. India and South Africa are calling for these examples to be more widely followed. (german-foreign-policy.com reported.) This week, the committee in charge of this question at the WHO, (the TRIPS Council) will again hold consultations on this question. To insure the profits for their pharmaceutical companies, western countries – including the EU and its member countries, also Germany – are refusing to grant a waiver to the patents.