France chides Austria, Denmark over Israel vaccine partnership, defends EU strategy
France has criticised an initiative by Austria and Denmark to coordinate with Israel on developing new Covid-19 jabs, as EU unity weakens over its troubled vaccine rollout. However, EU commissioner in charge of internal markets, Thierry Breton is confident the bloc will be able to vaccinate all Europeans by the end of summer.
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz announced the Israeli partnership on Monday, saying the European Medicines Agency (EMA) was "too slow in approving vaccines" leaving the bloc vulnerable to supply bottlenecks at pharmaceutical companies.
But France's foreign ministry defended the agency and insisted that "the most effective solution for meeting our vaccination needs must remain within a European framework," repeating an earlier commitment to a more integrated approach in the fight against Covid-19.
"This is what guarantees the solidarity among member states that is more essential than ever," it said in a statement late Wednesday.
European officials are under pressure to step up vaccination drives that have lagged behind those of other countries, including Israel and Britain, which approved coronavirus vaccines several weeks before the EMA.
"We should not be solely dependent on the EU any more," Kurz said ahead of a trip to Israel with his Danish counterpart Mette Frederiksen on Thursday to agree on common production of future vaccines and cooperation on research.
Austria's neighbours Slovakia, Hungary and the Czech Republic have already bypassed the EMA to approve Russian and Chinese coronavirus vaccines.
Slovakia was thrown into a political crisis over a secret deal to acquire Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine. Prime Minister Igor Matovic defended the move, saying it was made in the public interest amid a surge of infections. https://t.co/cvrLzakR2b— AP Europe (@AP_Europe) March 2, 2021
France's Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian acknowledged on Wednesday "significant" shortcomings in the EU's vaccination policies, but criticised what he called "attempts at secession".
European nations should instead pool their resources to increase vaccine production capacity in Europe, "something we are in the process of doing", the ministry said in its statement.
"The approval process for the European market has also been reviewed, with the introduction of 'emergency procedures' for vaccines targeting new variants," it added.
Rise to the challenge
On Thursday, EU commissioner in charge of internal markets, Thierry Breton told a press conference in Rome that the bloc would be able to vaccinate all European citizens "by the end of summer."
"The situation concerning the vaccines is very reassuring," he said. "It's an enormous challenge and yet we have responded with great speed."
"By the end of the year, Europe will be able to produce 2-3 billion vaccines per year," he continued. "Europe is the first continent in terms of production, followed by the United States with 2 billion. Between the two, we can count on 5 billion doses per year for the whole world."
Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morningSubscribe