Draghi Calls for EU Action Over Vaccine Delays: Summit Update

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi urged European Union leaders to use the bloc’s new powers to ensure the supply of vaccines during a video conference on Thursday.

The EU leaders were assessing the severity of the continent’s health situation and a controversial new proposal that will allow the EU to block vaccine exports from pharmaceutical companies that haven’t met their commitments to the bloc. The new rules, unveiled Wednesday, would also stop shipments to countries that don’t send full doses or ingredients back to the EU or that have better health situations or vaccination rates.

Key Developments:

  • EU has exported 77 million shots in total, 21 million went to the U.K.
  • Covid Tracker: Cases pass 124 million; deaths exceed 2.73 million
  • Vaccine Tracker: More than 486 million shots given worldwide
  • The EU and U.K. are making progress over vaccine sharing

(All times are for Brussels.)

Draghi Calls for EU Action Over Vaccine Delays: Summit Update

Biden Dials In and Voices Concerns Over Turkey and China (9:47 p.m.)

U.S. President Joe Biden told EU leaders he’s concerned about Turkey’s democratic backsliding and Ankara’s ever closer ties with Russia, according to several EU officials with knowledge of the exchange. The U.S. president’s comments come after a turbulent week for Turkey’s markets, following the abrupt sacking of the country’s central banker.

During their video call, EU leaders upheld the threat of sanctions against Turkey, while promising closer economic ties if Ankara stands down from its claims over gas reserves in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Biden told the group he wants to see healthy competition with China and hopes for greater coordination specifically in the areas of artificial intelligence and energy.

Draghi Backs the Commission Plan for Tougher Export Curbs (9:19 p.m.)

Draghi endorsed the European Commission’s move to toughen export restrictions and called on the leaders to act against pharma companies responsible for delays, according to an official with knowledge of his comments.

Draghi also discussed with Commission President Ursula von der Leyen the Astra Zeneca doses found at a plant in Anagni in Italy and was given reassurances that other shots Astra is producing in Belgium and the Netherlands will be distributed in the EU.

Lagarde Says Strengthening the Euro Not About Global Competition (9:08 p.m.)

Strengthening the international role of the euro is not about global currency competition or protectionism, but it is important for the strategic autonomy of the EU, European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde told EU leaders, according to an official familiar with her remarks.

Lagarde’s comments came during a discussion on the euro-area economy that was part of the leaders’ summit. The ECB chief said the euro’s role as the No. 2 currency in the world has remained broadly resilient during the pandemic, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. A key reason for the dominance of the dollar is that U.S. debt and equity markets are better integrated, deeper and more liquid than those in the euro area, she added.

The EU’s landmark recovery fund marks important progress in providing high-quality euro-dominated bonds, Lagarde told leaders, adding that the currency bloc’s status as a leader in green finance can also bolster the currency’s international role.

Turkey Offered Some Economic Benefits for Engaging With Greece (7:05 p.m.)

EU leaders offered Turkey vague promises of closer economic ties if it remains engaged in talks with Greece over maritime claims in the eastern Mediterranean. While they reiterated the threat of sanctions if the situation escalates again, there’s no prospect of punitive measures for now.

That’s a welcome piece of news for Turkey which has seen its markets roiled in the past week over the shock dismissal of the country’s central bank chief. Leaders also promised Turkey more financial assistance for hosting millions of Syrian refugees while scolding the country over its human rights record.

Leaders Discuss How to Distribute Extra Doses (6:29 p.m.)

EU leaders have spent hours discussing compromise proposals about how to distribute extra Pfizer Inc. doses the bloc expects to receive in the second quarter after Austria forced the item onto the agenda, according to two people familiar with the talks.

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has threatened to veto the summit conclusions if the issue isn’t resolved to his liking, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the meeting is private. A new proposal has been circulated and the discussion has moved onto Turkey.

The EU Sent 21 Million Shots to the U.K. (3:04 p.m.)

The EU has exported 21 million vaccine doses to the U.K., a European Commission official said, on condition of anonymity. Of those shots, just over a million were produced by AstraZeneca Plc., the official added. The previously undisclosed figures include shipments sent before an export-authorization mechanism was introduced at the end of January.

For context, the U.K. has administered about 31 million shots in total, so about two thirds of its supply has come from Europe.

The U.K. government is realizing that its much-vaunted vaccination campaign has been based on the EU’s manufacturing capacity and its openness to exports, the official said, adding that Wednesday’s joint EU-U.K. statement on access to vaccines is a sign of that growing awareness.

EU Exports More Shots Than It Gives Out at Home (2:18 p.m.)

Faced with voters angry at constantly prolonged lockdowns, the 27 governments may struggle to explain why the bloc has exported more doses to the rest of the world than those administered at home.

The figures presented to leaders by von der Leyen -- and then made public -- will raise pressure for tougher curbs on exports going forward. The European Commission has already introduced rules allowing it to block shipments at will, though it awaits political guidance from EU leaders on how stringently it should apply them.

EU Has Exported 77 Million Covid Doses Since Dec. 1 (1:54 p.m.)

The European Union has exported 77 million Covid doses since Dec. 1 to 33 countries outside the bloc, according to a slide European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen shared on Twitter.

She also sent slides that showed the EU expects to receive about 100 million doses in the first quarter of the year and 360 million in the second quarter.

About 88 million doses have been delivered, 62 million administered and there are 18.2 million people fully vaccinated, or 4.1% of the total population, according to the post.

The Pace of Vaccinations in the European Union Slows (1:31 p.m.)

The pace of Covid vaccinations in the European Union is getting slower as governments struggle to get doses delivered and then to get them into people’s arms, according to weekly figures from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

Twenty-nine countries in the bloc and wider European Economic Area received 7.2 million doses over the week through March 21, fewer than the 9.9. million the week before, according to the ECDC. They administered 8 million shots over the period, again fewer than the 9.1 million in the seven previous days.

That equates to about 1.1 million vaccinations a day compared to 2.5 million a day in the U.S., where the population is about 70% as large.

U.K. Remains Biggest Recipient of EU Vaccines (1:05 p.m.)

The U.K. has received 11 million Covid vaccines from the EU, making it by far the biggest recipient of the 45 million doses that have shipped out of the bloc since Feb. 1.

This could put Britain in danger of the EU’s new export authorization mechanism, which would block shipments to countries that don’t send doses or ingredients back to the EU. The bloc says that the U.K. hasn’t sent any doses.

The new European Commission regulation, which was published on Wednesday, says that the EU would consider if the destination country restricts “its own exports of vaccines or raw materials, either by law or other means.”

Draghi Calls for EU Action Over Vaccine Delays: Summit Update

Astra’s First Quarter Vaccine Deliveries May Fall Short Again (11:52 a.m.)

The issue of the Italian shots will still hang over the conversation of EU leaders. Astra has said that 16 million doses found in a police raid at the Italian site run by Catalent were meant to be shipped to Europe and another 13 million were allocated for Covax, the program to supply developing countries.

That may not entirely convince EU officials who have grown increasingly suspicious of Astra, which has repeatedly failed to meet its commitments on vaccine deliveries.

The drugmaker’s latest promise is for 30 million shots to be delivered to the EU this quarter, less than a third of its original commitment and it might even miss that target. As of Wednesday, the company had delivered just 18 million doses with a week to go before the deadline. Astra said that 10 million shots from the Italian storage facility should be delivered to EU countries by the end of the month.

Merkel Appeals to Germans to Stay Positive (11:32 a.m.)

Chancellor Angela Merkel called on Germans to be more optimistic and pull together to beat the coronavirus when she addressed the Bundestag on Thursday morning.

“You can’t achieve anything if you only ever see the negative,” Merkel told lawmakers in Berlin, a day after making a rare public apology over a botched plan for a hard Easter lockdown. She said that she can see “light at the end of the tunnel” even as aggressive mutations spread.

“We will defeat this virus, I am absolutely sure we’ll manage it,” she said. “So it’s about joining forces and looking forward positively, even if the situation remains difficult. That’s what I would ask for from every person in this country.”

Austria’s Own Goal Could Introduce Sour Note in Talks (10:37 a.m.)

Some member states have for weeks been trading nasty threats and accusations over the redistribution of vaccines. At the center of the row, which has spilled from private meetings into the public domain, is a decision taken by Austria and five other central and eastern European governments to turn down more expensive jabs to bet on the cheaper AstraZeneca shots. As part of the EU distribution agreements, the vaccines those countries didn’t want were purchased by other member states. Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has wrongly accused the bloc of running a “bazaar“ for vaccine doses and some governments of securing secret deals.

The Austrian government had proposed that 10 million surplus doses of Pfizer-BioNtech be redistributed among the unhappy six, with several more well off and better inoculated members, including Germany and Malta, not receiving any. Others bristled at the Austrian proposal -- and Kurz’s attitude. Germany has proposed redistributing some 3 million of those 10 million doses among countries, such as Bulgaria and Latvia, whose vaccination campaign is indeed behind but not to Austria. The balance would be shared among all 27 members.

Diplomats and officials say that it is not just about political point scoring -- Austria has vaccinated a greater proportion of its population than the EU average and many countries, including Germany and France, while others like Bulgaria and Latvia genuinely need help.

While there’s still no solution, officials are trying to keep the spat from flaring up during the summit. The default option would be for all 10 million doses to be distributed pro-rata based on current arrangements, diplomats said, noting that either way, Kurz won’t be getting any extra shots.

Leaders to Warn Health Situation Remains Dire (9:55 a.m.)

When the meeting begins, the leaders will debate the pandemic before moving on to other topics, such as Russia, Turkey and how to boost the international role of the euro. The premiers will declare that lockdowns and curbs on travel must continue, amid a flare up in coronavirus infections across the bloc, according to the latest draft of their joint communique seen by Bloomberg.

At the same time, they’ll vow to begin preparations for a coordinated lifting of restrictions when the epidemiological situations allows it, the statement says. Crucially for tourism-dependent economies, leaders will give a nod for work to go ahead on digital passes, which will ease travel for those inoculated, recovered from the virus or who can show a recent negative test. The aim is to have the system up and running by June, just in time for this summer’s tourist season.

Merkel Says Vaccine Passport Will Take More Time (9:55 a.m.)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel threw cold water on hopes for a quick deal on EU vaccination passports, telling lawmakers in Berlin on Thursday that it will take time to sort out the details.

At the virtual summit, “we will talk about the next steps for the development of a so-called green certificate which should be ready by summer,” she said. “This is no easy task with 27 member states and will take a few more weeks.”

While the technical issues could be worked out quickly, she said the bloc will have to “look very closely” at the rights that a vaccination passport would allow.

Leaders’ Discussion on Allocations Could Turn Bitter (9:55 a.m.)

The main part of the discussion may revolve around new rules introduced on Wednesday by the European Commission that pave the way for tougher curbs on vaccine exports. While aghast with AstraZeneca Plc’s delivery delays, some countries are still reluctant to agree on measures that could potentially disrupt global supply chains. Meanwhile, a group of nations that had based their vaccine strategy on Astra’s shots will seek a so-called corrective mechanism to make up for the shortfall by getting extra doses from an accelerated batch of vaccines from Pfizer Inc. The discussion could turn bitter.

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