EU again orders inspection of a vaccine filling plant. EU export controls cost precious time in global vaccine production.
The EU's serious failings in procurement of Covid-19 vaccines are dragging the Union into internal and external conflicts prior to today's summit. Tensions are growing between EU states, because poorer countries are being discriminated against in the distribution of the scarce supply of vaccines and are thus lagging behind in their vaccination programs. The fact that a growing number of EU member states, in addition to the protracted procurement at Union level, have begun to purchase Russian vaccines on a national level has caused further conflicts. Several allied countries are very upset because the EU has widened vaccine export controls and openly threatens to impose export bans. It was reported yesterday that the EU Commission had ordered the police to inspect an AstraZeneca vaccine filling plant in Italy, accusing the company of smuggling vaccines to the UK in a breach of contract. The accusation proved to be unfounded. According to insiders, the EU's maneuvers are already wasting precious time in global vaccine production.
Second-Class Member Nations
The EU's serious failings in vaccine procurement and its inability to restrict the pandemic's third wave have been dragging the Union into new internal and external conflicts. Among the member countries, the controversy over distribution of the scarce supply of vaccines is intensifying. Several poorer nations did not purchase the entire allotment of the expensive BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine, relying instead on the cheaper AstraZeneca vaccine, whose supply is now being delayed. More wealthy member nations - including Germany - are buying the left-over BioNTech/Pfizer jabs. Latvia, Bulgaria and Croatia for example are thus lagging far behind the already low EU vaccination quotas. Austria's Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has demanded that today's EU summit change course and warned that if "the gap ... in vaccination coverage" increases, it will lead to "second-class member nations." Berlin vehemently rejects this idea - pointing also to the fact that Austria is one of the wealthier EU member countries. Even though this is true, it does not dispel the well-founded anger in regions of eastern and southeastern Europe.
Cold Vaccine War
Tensions within the EU are also intensifying because, due to the continued vaccine shortage, a growing number of member states have begun to procure supplementary Russian and Chinese vaccines at the national level - in addition to the Union's joint procurement project. To Brussels' resentment, Hungary had already begun to take this step in January and has achieved one of the highest vaccination rates in all of Europe. Poland, on the other hand, adamantly rejects purchasing the Russian Sputnik V vaccine - for political reasons. In Slovakia, Prime Minister Igor Matovič's decision to order two million Sputnik V jabs has provoked a government crisis because members of his government coalition place geostrategic considerations above the protection of human life. The vaccine should be rejected because it is an "instrument of the hybrid war," waged by Russia against the West, Foreign Minister Ivan Korčok admonished. (german-foreign-policy.com reported.). Under the pressure of the unabated vaccine shortage, some west-European countries - including Germany - have begun to prepare for national procurement of Sputnik V. This weakens the Union's cohesion, because the EU Commission rejects the Russian vaccine.
Possible Export Ban
External conflicts are also escalating. The tightening of export controls on vaccines, decided by the EU Commission yesterday, is met internationally with widespread incomprehension. The controls provide for lifting the February 1, introduced exemptions for vaccine deliveries, meaning that from now on, even exports to allied countries - including Norway, Switzerland, or Israel - must explicitly obtain authorization. The export licensing standards are also being tightened. For example, permits will be made dependent on whether the EU receives vaccines from the recipient country and whether the recipient country's pandemic situation is better than that of the EU. This will determine whether export bans will be imposed. Recently, the EU Commission had already halted the delivery of 250,000 AstraZeneca vaccines doses from Anagni - to the southeast of Rome - to Australia, using the justification that Australia is so successfully combating the pandemic, that it can do without these doses. In fact, the threat of halting exports is primarily targeting both Great Britain, whose vaccination campaign is running successfully, and AstraZeneca the vaccine producer.
Search Warrant Served at Filling Plant
In the meantime, the commission has backed up its threat by ordering the Carabinieri to search the premises of the AstraZeneca filling plant in Anagni, from where the vaccines are exported. The plant was accused of stocking 29 million AstraZeneca doses, to be smuggled to Great Britain, in a breach of contract. According to media sources, the company had "secretly" hidden the vaccines in a "cache" inside the filling plant. According to information from AstraZeneca, 16 million of those doses, awaiting in Anagni their routine quality certification, had originated at the AstraZeneca plant in Leiden, in the Netherlands, which, alongside the plant in Seneffe Belgium, produces vaccines for the EU. Accordingly, these are destined for delivery to EU countries, however, the plant in the Netherlands is still awaiting certification, therefore the vaccine jabs cannot be administered. According to AstraZeneca, the other 13 million doses in Anagni, had been produced outside the EU and were merely filled in Italy. They are intended for the global COVAX vaccine pool. The search of the plant has confirmed the information provided, which was admitted by the Italian government, as well as the EU's Internal Market Commissioner, Thierry Breton.
The Policy of Suspicion
As recently as last December, EU Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen grandiloquently reiterated - for the umpteenth time - that the EU has "bought more than enough doses for everyone in the EU," and that it is even "in a position ... to support our neighbors and our partners throughout the world, so that no one will be left behind." Now the Union has not only imposed a ban on vaccine exports, and widened export controls imposed at the end of January, but already for the second time, has ordered police to inspect a plant, belonging to AstraZeneca's European chain of production. Both raids have proven to have been based on groundless allegations. Yet, Brussels still has not refrained from spreading suspicion. An EU representative alleged yesterday that AstraZeneca possibly was counting on current vaccine export controls to lapse so that it could move the shots abroad, perhaps to the U.K. The unnamed EU functionary furnished no evidence to support such a peculiar allegation.
Time Lost, Thanks to the EU
The EU's export controls and the repeated execution of search warrants - which threaten to seriously hamper vaccine production - are making western vaccine producers nervous. This was confirmed yesterday by a diplomat involved in the matter in the online portal Politico Europe. According to the portal, manufacturers are triggering plans to stockpile raw materials needed for vaccine production around the world, to avoid being hamstrung in the case of an EU export ban. The threat to the highly sensitive supply chains, caused by the EU's measures, are delaying the completion of finished doses, which could, in turn, derail vaccine rollout programs, losing precious time, costing human lives.
 See also Das Impfdesaster der EU (II).
 Christoph B. Schiltz: Österreichs Kanzler warnt vor Spaltung Europas wegen Impfstoffverteilung. welt.de 24.03.2021.
 Reinhard Lauterbach: Polen will kein "Sputnik V". junge Welt 08.03.2021.
 See also Europäisches Roulette.
 Strengere Regeln für Impfstoff-Exporte. tagesschau.de 24.03.2021.
 See also Europe First.
 EU-Impfchefin droht Astra-Zeneca. faz.net 23.03.2021.
 Astrazeneca versteckt 29 Millionen Impfdosen vor der EU. n-tv.de 24.03.2021.
 Paola Tamma, Anna Isaac, Jakob Hanke Vela, Helen Collis, Carlo Martuscelli: EU sends Italian police to find AstraZeneca vaccines, triggering global angst. politico.eu 24.03.2021.
 Oliver Grimm: AstraZeneca: 29 Millionen Dosen Impfstoff nahe Rom entdeckt. diepresse.com 24.03.2021.
 See also Die Welt impfen.
,  Paola Tamma, Anna Isaac, Jakob Hanke Vela, Helen Collis, Carlo Martuscelli: EU sends Italian police to find AstraZeneca vaccines, triggering global angst. politico.eu 24.03.2021.