‘Dangerous’ Von der Leyen shamed over UK vaccine threat as EU and Germany damaged by chaos

Vaccine row: Expert says export ban would be a 'dangerous road'

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Hans-Olaf Henkel said in any case the bloc was picking on the “wrong target”, pointing out it should take its complaints to pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca, rather than the UK and by extension its people. The bitter row has been rumbling all week, with Mrs von der Leyen using an interview with Funke Media Group to warn: “This is a message to AstraZeneca: You fulfil your part of the deal toward Europe before you start to deliver to other countries.”

Critics have suggested the bloc is explicitly seeking to punish Britain, and an investigation published today by the pro-Brexit Facts4EU think tank revealed 118 countries are currently exempt from such export restrictions.

Mr Henkel, who stepped down from the European Parliament in 2019, told Express.co.uk: “The threats voiced by the EU-President Ursula von der Leyen and the leader of the European Parliament‘s political group, Manfred Weber, to block the exports of vaccines to Britain is scandalous, dangerous and anyway directed against the wrong target.

“Scandalous, because it is only aimed at deflecting from the colossal mismanagement in Brussels.

“Dangerous, because it undermines the greatest advantage of the EU i.e. a free trading zone.

“These threats now create new precedences for future trade conflicts within the EU and between the EU and third parties.”

Mr Henkel, who also served as the president of the Federation of German Industries (BDI) between 1995 and 2000, explained: “Since all vaccines are produced using complex international supply chains Britain could retaliate by blocking exports of certain ingredients of vaccines produced in Europe.”

Referring to remarks by Angela Merkel today, he added: “Therefore it was not only helpful but straight slaps into the faces of von der Leyen and Weber when Chancellor Merkel rejected these export embargoes this morning in her press conference.”

Moreover, Mr Henkel pointed out the bloc was essentially barking up the wrong tree, given the EU had not entered into a contract for deliveries with Britain, but with AstraZeneca, an international company.

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He said: “Brussels should deal with a company and not with a country, complain to AstraZeneca and if justified sue them rather than blaming Britain.”

Mr Henkel also feared the collateral damage the episode would inflict on leaders across Europe.

He warned: “Let me assert that Berlin‘s and Brussels‘ handling of the ordering of vaccines has done more to hurt the image of German and European politicians than many previous scandals together.”

Sandra Gallina, the Commission’s chief vaccine negotiator today said the EU would be using all available means to secure COVID-19 vaccines produced by AstraZeneca.

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She did not elaborate on which methods would be employed, but it would seem to back up Mrs von der Leyen’s threat to tighten export controls on drugmakers that fail to comply with their supply contracts with the EU.

Earlier this month, AstraZeneca said it would aim to deliver 100 million vaccines to the European Union by the end of June, three times fewer than it had committed to in the contract.

Mrs Gallina told MEPs in Brussels: “We intend to take action,” pledging to use “all the tools at our disposal to get the AstraZeneca doses”.

She added: “It’s a shame, it’s reputational damage,” noting that just one of the five vaccine-production plants listed in the EU contract with AstraZeneca was delivering vaccines to the EU.

The contract lists two factories in Britain, one in the Netherlands, one in Belgium.

Another one in the United States is listed as a back-up supplier.

Currently, only the Belgium plant, run by Thermo Fisher Scientific, is producing shots for the EU.

The Commission has also started a procedure foreseen under the contract with AstraZeneca which could lead to legal action against the company.

Also speaking today, French Europe Minister Clement Beaune demanded “reciprocity” with Britain over the supply of the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine.

He told France Info radio: “We are telling AstraZeneca: we can understand you have production issues but there is no reason for Europe to be the adjustment variable.

“We want to avoid that AstraZeneca doses produced in Europe go to Britain when we are not receiving anything.

“We want to make sure the reciprocity principle applies.”

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