The European Commission proudly announced on 24 November 2020, that it had procured nearly 2 billion doses of vaccines to cover the entire population of the European Union(EU), to be distributed between member states, once the European Medicines Agency gives the approval, probably on 29 December.
Citizens of the EU should be elated, the nightmare of the Covid-19 virus that arrived from China at the start of 2020, may finally be coming to an end.
However, all is not clear. In fact, the whole procedure as to how the vaccine has been obtained by the EU may yet turn out to be the biggest scandal to hit Europe.
The complete tender process is being called into question – Clarity regarding the terms of the final contract, a vagueness surrounding the conditions, including liability and exclusivity, and a lack of transparency on price, and costs paid to third parties, are all being challenged. Concerns of wrongdoing have arisen because the check and balances put in place to respect transparency and accountability of spending EU tax payer money, have all been by-passed by the Commission – the European body with whom all responsibility lies.
The Commission, currently mired in deadlock in its Multi-Financial Framework ( the budget for the EU) and Brexit trade talks with the UK, is refusing to give precise information on how the vaccine contracts were awarded.
In October 2019, when President Ursula Von der Leyen was appointed as Head of the European Commission she stated in her document titled ‘Working Methods of the European Commission, a sort of rulebook for commissioners’ that : “Transparency is of particular importance where specific interests related to the commission’s work on legislative initiatives or financial matters are discussed with professional organisations or individuals.” Furthermore, she told her commissioners they should be open about contacts they have with lobbyists.”Transparency should characterise the work of all the members of the commission and of their cabinets,” she wrote. Admittedly, a public procurement tender is not the same as a negotiation with a lobbyist, it is something much more serious if we consider the numbers involved for the procurement of Coronavirus vaccines.
As the overarching body of the EU, when it comes to tenders and public procurement contracts, the Commission applies very strict rules which fall under EU law. Within the remit of the Commission is the power to verify that public entities in member states, national and territorial administrations, apply EU laws on the transparency of all contracts, over a minimum amount, awarded from public funds whether they are for works, supplies or services. The wrath of Brussels haunts both the smallest and the largest of municipalities when they have to award major public contracts because the Commission demands accountability for every Euro cent!
However, the anomaly in all of this is that the Commission itself is the only EU body that is exempt from the laws it imposes on others! This is impunity!
The Commission is hiding behind one of the greatest absurdities of EU law: EU law applies to everyone in Europe except the European Commission – in effect, the EU itself.
The call for tenders for vaccines is the largest ever tender launched by the EU and yet it completely avoids compliance with EU public procurement laws – No wonder there is a public outcry!
Despite numerous requests for information from Members of the European Parliament, civil society groups and lawyers, the Commission hides behind a legal loophole. Sandra Gallina, Deputy Director-General for Health and Food Safety (DG SANTE), the department responsible for the vaccine procurement, stated that: “Revealing the terms of the contracts would endanger the marketing of the vaccines”. This in itself is highly suspicious and a strange statement which only evokes speculation.
Transparency in the awarding of contracts does not mean revealing the research methodology, the innovation nor manufacturing secrets of production of the vaccine, that is all covered by patents. However, basic information on safety, liability of the manufacturer, compliance with regulatory controls, as well as financial values committed for the purchase, budget lines for the purchase, and of course, conditions of consumer protection, must be disclosed to the tax payers who have provided the funds.
Stella Kyriakides, the Commissioner for Health, has refused to comment on the issue of vaccine purchase prices on the pretext that “we cannot give sensitive information about companies without their authorisation”, another strange answer. At the same time, the large pharmaceutical companies involved, Pfilzer and AstraZeneca, are also silent.
The Commission has opened a pandora’s box of conspiracy.
What is the Commission hiding? Why will it not share the exact value of the contract? How much were the intermediaries paid? Who is benefiting from inside the Commission? Where is the money coming from?
What is the price of the vaccine? What is the resale price to member states? Do citizens therefore get it for free? As the EU already financed the research and now has to buy the vaccines, is this double funding or is the EU paying twice?
Why was Hungary not allowed to buy the Russian Sputnik 5 vaccine? Is there an “exclusivity” clause, which means all 27 members states are obliged not to buy from other providers?
Several members of parliament suspect countries like France, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands of having forced the Commission to “do their dirty work” of buying vaccines for them in order to escape the EU rules.
To put it politely, something stinks! – Much more than other scandals that have hit the Commission previously. A lack of transparency brings a lack of trust, and currently “trust” and “Europe”, in the minds of citizens, have never been so far apart.
I would like to say, “I told you so” – When the proposal for a revision of EU law on public procurement announced that the Commission itself would be exempt from EU law on tenders and procurement, I was the rapporteur of a European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) opinion on the proposal. I highlighted this failing then and in the recommendations said that the Commission and the EU itself must fall under EU law in all matters relating to public procurement, knowing that, at some point of desperation in the future, this would be used to violate all the values of the European Union.
By HENRI MALOSSE
Photo Credit : https://pixabay.com/photos/mask-corona-muzzle-duty-zipper-5128430/