Germany is urging the European Commission to give member states the power to block the export of coronavirus vaccines produced in the EU as tensions rise due to the shortage of supplies.
Jens Spahn, Germany’s health minister, urged Brussels to force companies to get clearance before shipping jabs from the bloc. His proposals came as Brussels worked on new rules for exports, due to be unveiled on Friday, with officials divided over the strictness of the regime.
Germany, which is home to a number of vaccine manufacturing sites, has become the strongest advocate for stricter export restrictions.
“It’s not about ‘the EU first’. This is Europe’s fair share, ”said Spahn. “That’s why I think it would make sense to have a restriction on exports. This would mean that vaccines leaving the EU need a permit, so that at least we know what is produced in Europe, what leaves Europe, where it leaves Europe, and we have a equitable distribution.
However, Valdis Dombrovskis, the EU trade commissioner, said on Tuesday that Brussels did not want to impose restrictions on shipments, but instead said companies should be required to provide more information on where they are sending vaccines. . The committee hopes to file an “export notification instrument” by the end of the week.
Boris Johnson, the British Prime Minister, has urged the EU not to impose any export restrictions.
“The creation of these vaccines has been a wonderful example of multinational cooperation and one of the lessons the world must learn from the pandemic is to cooperate,” said Mr Johnson. “So I don’t want to see restrictions on the supply of PPE, drugs or vaccines or their ingredients across the border.”
EU struggles to find its vaccine deployment strategy on the right track after AstraZeneca informed officials late last week that its production would be significantly lower than expected.
In Germany, Mr Spahn has come under increasing pressure over the slow start of the vaccination campaign in Germany and the shortage of doses of the vaccine. Opposition parties criticized the government for handing over responsibility for vaccine procurement to the EU.
The EU has fallen behind the US and UK in its pace of vaccination against Covid-19 as it awaits a decision from the bloc’s medical regulator on the approval of AstraZeneca’s vaccine, who could come on Friday.
Amid member states’ anger over AstraZeneca’s production deficits, Brussels is exploring several options, including a temporary regime introduced last March governing exports of personal protective equipment. This made the export of certain products subject to authorization by the Member State concerned.
Such a system would risk causing friction with other countries and raising questions about whether the EU is reneging on its public commitments to ensure that vaccines are distributed fairly around the world. On the very day Mr Spahn spoke about export restrictions, Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, spoke of the dangers of “isolation” and “separation” of Europe from the rest of the world.
Approaching digital World Economic Forum, she said, in terms of Covid-19 vaccines, “it’s even clearer to me than before that we have to choose a multilateral approach, that isolation is not going to help solve the problem. “
She said rich countries must ensure that vaccines are made available to poorer countries. “Money is one thing, but at a time when vaccines are scarce, it is also about distributing them fairly,” she said.
Dombrovskis stressed on Tuesday that the regime being developed in Brussels would be subject to a series of exemptions, including when the export was for humanitarian reasons.
Diplomats said on Tuesday that the ultimate form of the rules was still evolving given the sensitivities involved.
“At the moment, we have no idea what it is,” said a European diplomat. “But blocking exports might be a bit too much, as it would trigger a trade war with the United States – six days after he said we should rebuild transatlantic relations.”