The leaders of the European Union were scheduled to meet in person for the first time this year next Thursday and Friday in Brussels, but the deterioration of the epidemiological situation has frustrated the first European summit of 2021. The president of the European Council, Charles Michel, resisted to cancel it, but finally this Sunday it has announced that the meeting will be held by videoconference, which forces to reduce the ambition of the appointment.
The 27 governments of the EU had planned to analyze the geopolitical situation, in particular, the difficult relations with its two great neighbors, Russia and Turkey. But the meeting through the screens does not allow, according to diplomatic sources, to address such sensitive issues in depth.
In addition, the rebound in covid-19 cases in most of Europe forces EU leaders to dedicate a large part of the meeting to reviewing the evolution of vaccination campaigns, which end the first quarter far from the planned objectives. , and the coordination of restrictive cross-border measures to try to stop the expansion of the coronavirus.
Last year Michel managed to have the decisive July summit, which required four days to agree on the recovery fund, to be held physically in Brussels, albeit with extreme precautionary measures, such as very small delegations and a total absence of the press. The experience was repeated at the October and December summits. And they were the model for the first meeting of this year, scheduled for March 25 and 26.
But a good part of European governments began last week to show reluctance to hold a face-to-face summit in Brussels. The rebound in coronavirus cases in most of Europe and the imminence of a fourth wave of infections made it inadvisable to travel to the community capital, according to several diplomatic delegations.
In eight of the 27 countries of the Union, the infection rate exceeds the threshold of 500 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, considered as very high risk by the European Commission. And in four others, including France and Italy, that limit is touched, according to the latest data from the European Center for Disease Control and Prevention (ECDC). Most countries have introduced or prolonged restrictions on movement, including Belgium, which prevents entry and exit into their territory except for exceptional reasons.
This serious epidemiological situation is expected to dominate the videoconference of European leaders. The 27 arrive at the meeting overwhelmed by the slow deployment of the vaccination campaigns and with internal quarrels over the distribution of the doses reserved by the European Commission.
AstraZeneca vaccine shortage
The shortage caused by the production failures of AstraZeneca, one of the four pharmaceutical companies with authorized vaccines in Europe, has been joined by the resentment of countries such as Austria, which had opted almost exclusively for the drug from the Anglo-Swedish company. The Austrian Chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, is now demanding doses from the pharmaceutical company BioNTech / Pfizer that he did not want to buy at the time and that have already been distributed among the countries that agreed to buy them.
The European Commission also brings to the meeting a proposal to tighten the control of exports of vaccines, subject to authorization since last February 1. The EU has since allowed the exit of more than 40 million doses and has only vetoed a shipment of a quarter of a million AstraZeneca destined for Australia. But the president of the Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, wants to introduce stricter criteria before giving the green light to exports. Specifically, take into account whether the destination country allows the delivery of vaccines and the number of doses it has. The objective is to prevent the export to the United Kingdom, which since February 1 has received 10 million doses manufactured in the EU and, on the other hand, has not exported a single vial to Community territory.
In Brussels, moreover, there is no hiding the unease over the continuous boasting of the Boris Johnson government about the speed of its vaccination campaigns, achieved in large part thanks to European factories. More than 51% of the British population have already received the first dose of the vaccine, compared to just over 10% in the EU. The figures are similar for the full regimen (two doses), with 4% in the UK and 4.5% in the community club.
Around half of the vaccines administered in the UK have left BioNTech / Pfizer factories in the EU; the rest are from Oxford / Astrazeneca. This Anglo-Swedish company has provoked the anger of Brussels by dispatching only 30 million doses in the EU in the first quarter, far from the 90 million contracted. For the second quarter, Brussels expected the arrival of 180 million doses of AstraZeneca, but the company is only willing to deliver 70 million and the Commission no longer rules out that even those figures are not met.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.