EU main committee discusses corona vaccine distribution
Vienna (PK) – At the virtual meeting of the EU heads of state and government next Thursday and Friday, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz wants to address a redistribution or “fair distribution” of corona vaccines within the European Union, as he confirmed today in the EU main committee of the National Council. Deviations from the population key in the corona vaccine deliveries by the steering committee at official level would have led to massive differences within the Union. Malta would have received about three times as many corona vaccines as Bulgaria. There should be no second-class EU member states, a compensation mechanism is necessary, said the Chancellor. It was not clear to all EU heads of government that there would be different vaccine deliveries.
The opposition sees it differently and locates a clear failure with the Chancellor or the federal government itself. Kurz wants to look for a culprit, according to the SPÖ, FPÖ and NEOS, in order to distract from their own failures and mistakes. The federal government only budgeted € 200 million for corona vaccines, which means that Austria did not order more vaccines at EU level than would have been possible according to the number of inhabitants. In addition, in January there would have been the possibility at EU level to reorder vaccines that had not been requested from other member states. That did not happen either, the opposition factions agree on the question of guilt.
In short: not all heads of government knew about deviations from “pro rate population at the same time”
In the European Council, the heads of state and government have always received the information that the vaccine is being delivered “pro rate population at the same time”, ie proportionally to the population at the same time. Kurz said that not all heads of government were aware of the fact that the responsible steering committee at civil servant level deviated from it in secrecy, as he found out in many telephone calls with European counterparts. “Hardly anyone was aware that there are significantly different delivery quantities and that the distribution is not proportional to the population,” said the Chancellor. If all member states had been aware of the different delivery quantities, they would have ordered each vaccine “as much as possible”. In any case, Austria has got things rolling here and is confident that a solution or a balance will be reached. Many heads of government are interested in correcting these inequalities. In any case, he experiences positive voices “in our direction” from many countries.
With regard to the ten million additional doses of vaccine to be distributed in the EU, the Chancellor believes that these should be given to all those member states that have too little vaccine. It is important to consider the topic on a meta level. A widening gap in vaccine distribution would not be good for the EU.
For Kurz, it is also not okay that several corona vaccines are developed and co-produced in the EU, but many countries outside the EU such as Great Britain, the USA, Chile or Israel currently have more vaccine doses available than the member states themselves on the part of the Commission and this week at the level of the Heads of State or Government considered export restrictions. This could also be a lever to increase vaccine access for Europeans.
With regard to the use of money from the EU recovery fund, Kurz told MEP Claudia Gamon (NEOS) that there was a stakeholder process led by European Minister Karoline Edtstadler with the federal states and social partners that was currently being concluded. Like other EU member states, Austria will present its projects in April. It is about the areas of climate, greening and digitization.
Kurz regards the Green Passport at EU level as “fundamental” and as an opportunity to restore basic EU freedoms such as freedom of travel more quickly and to enable a “normal life” again in Austria. It is not about introducing a passport only for vaccinated people, but for vaccinated, convalescent and tested people in order to guarantee a maximum of “freedom of life”. He hopes that the EU member states will proceed as uniformly as possible.
Kurz told NEOS MP Helmut Brandstätter, who called for a “truth” about vaccination progress, that Austria was within the “better half” of the EU. It is simply wrong to pretend that there is no vaccination in Austria and in other countries. According to the Chancellor, around 30,000 doses are currently being inoculated daily, starting in April there should be 40,000 daily, and starting in May and June more again. According to Kurz, around 8 million vaccine doses should be available in Austria by the summer.
The EU internal market will also be an issue between the heads of state and government. For example, Carmen Jeitler-Cincelli (ÖVP) briefly remarked that the corona pandemic shows the weaknesses of the current EU competition policy. Europe must be more resilient as a location and the green and digital transformation must be promoted. Austria advocates reform of EU competition and state aid law and fair taxation of the digital economy. He sees positive economic prospects from the summer onwards.
With regard to relations between the EU and Turkey, which will also be on the agenda on Thursday and Friday, the Chancellor calls for a “consistent line on the part of the EU”. Even if there had been a certain degree of relaxation recently with regard to Greece and Cyprus, with Turkey’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, there was new need for discussion. “This is not a step that we should appreciate or welcome in Europe,” said Kurz in response to questions from Petra Steger (FPÖ) and Ewa Ernst-Dziedzic (Greens). In any case, his stance, namely to break off the EU accession negotiations with Turkey, would have solidified.
When it comes to relations with the United States and Russia, the Chancellor declared that, as a staunch Democrat, he advocated strong transatlantic relations with the United States. But that is not in contrast to good conversational relationships with Russia, which he will always seek despite different systems.
Opposition: Kurz wants to divert attention from his own vaccine failure
The Chancellor’s approach in connection with the distribution of vaccines in the EU and the procurement of vaccines for Austria was sharply criticized by all opposition groups. SPÖ, FPÖ and NEOS agree that Kurz only wants to divert attention from “his own failure” in procuring vaccines or from “corruption cases in his own party”, as Petra Steger (FPÖ) speculated.
“We just don’t have enough vaccine,” said SPÖ MP Jörg Leichtfried (SPÖ). There are currently countless people in Austria who want to be vaccinated, but the vaccinations are not available. Kurz would look for a different culprit every week, once it was the commission, once an official, so Leichtfried. The blame and the mistakes would clearly lie with the federal government itself. In Leichtfried’s opinion, the first mistake occurred with the vaccine budget limit of € 200 million, which led to Austria ordering fewer vaccine doses than would have been possible according to the number of inhabitants. The second mistake would consist in the fact that no reorders were made by Austria in January, although the Minister of Health had informed the Council of Ministers about it. The Chancellor’s “strange appearances” recently had the result that Austria’s reputation in the EU was no longer the best. “It is the full responsibility of the federal government that the people in Austria have too few vaccines,” said Leichtfried. Against this background, the Green Pass is a “teasing” for those people who want to be vaccinated but have no access to the vaccination.
“We owe it to you personally that we are in such a bad position in Austria,” said FPÖ MP Dagmar Belakowitsch (FPÖ) of the criticism of the SPÖ. Instead of asking at EU level whether there has actually been an unequal distribution, the Chancellor makes himself important and holds large press conferences. Belakowitsch explained that if the finance minister only releases € 200 million for corona vaccinations, which is below the federal government’s PR budget, no more vaccine doses can be purchased. It would simply have taken additional money to order all or additional cans that would have been available for Austria. “You started to skimp”, criticized the FPÖ MP.
One should not be surprised if some EU institutions or member states react to Austria with amazement, said MEP Claudia Gamon (NEOS). From her point of view, “a pattern is emerging that one looks to others to blame for one’s own misconduct”. There was a transparent vaccine ordering process at EU level in which all member states were involved. The commission disclosed quotas from which the member states could use. “Austria did a little less than others but speculated with these orders,” said Gamon. Not all quotas have been exhausted at all companies. In January there was also the possibility of re-ordering unused contingents, which also did not happen on the part of Austria. “The EU is certainly not to blame, that is your own responsibility,” said Gamon.
On the part of the ÖVP MPs, however, the Chancellor’s approach at EU level was more than approved. Reinhold Lopatka thanked Kurz for pointing out “this undesirable development”. The EU can only function if solidarity and a willingness to compromise are observed. If a committee of officials – probably well meant – deviates from the path, it is not in solidarity, so Lopatka. His group colleague Martin Engelberg (ÖVP) said “as an ardent EU supporter” that one should talk openly about it if something goes wrong in the EU. For example, the Union lost many weeks on vaccine approvals. Because of this, Great Britain and Israel are now further ahead.
From a European perspective, the postponement of some vaccine doses is the least problem Europe will have with regard to the overall drama, said the Greens MP Michel Reimon, trying to calve it in the vaccine debate. The member states had placed an order for a planning state that did not hold up a few months later because companies could not deliver, Reimon said. In January there was no readjustment at EU level. But you have to leave the church in the village and not talk about the next big EU crisis, said the MP for the Greens. From a pan-European point of view, it is right to advocate distributive justice. (Final) keg
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