EU Opposition to U.S. Vaccine Plan Grows With Macron Broadside
The plan from U.S. President Joe Biden has prompted debate within the European Union, where France, Germany and the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, have all signaled their discomfort with the idea, while Spain indicated support. Drugmakers warned that waiving intellectual-property rights will harm efforts to counter the pandemic.
Macron said on arrival on Friday at an EU summit on social issues in Porto that while he welcomes the debate over such rights, he wants to protect innovation. The president also rekindled long-standing tensions over EU appeals for help with vaccines supplies from the U.S. and the U.K.
“Today the Anglo-Saxons are blocking many of these ingredients and these vaccines,” Macron said. “Today 100% of the vaccines produced in the United States of America go to the American market.” He added that intellectual property isn’t the issue at stake now. “You can give IP to labs who don’t know how to produce it, and they won’t produce it tomorrow.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has also dismissed the proposal and her health minister, Jens Spahn, said the problem is not patents but production capacity and availability. He also took a swipe at Washington.
“I would be pleased if the United States of America were prepared, just like the European Union, to release doses produced in the U.S. for export,” Spahn said in Berlin. “The EU produces for the world, in the knowledge that we are only safe when everyone in the world is safe.”
EU officials have been skeptical about whether the U.S. proposal can meaningfully address the vaccine shortage many countries are facing, arguing that there has been no example so far of intellectual property protections limiting supply. World Trade Organization negotiations could take many months or longer, warned the officials speaking on condition of anonymity.
Instead, the priority should be scaling up manufacturing capacity by freeing up supply chains, exports of key inputs and ingredients, the EU officials said. Crucially, they should work to connect companies with the patents and know-how to produce the vaccine with any spare manufacturing capacity around the world.
Pitted against the EU’s two biggest economies is Spain. “We in the Spanish government welcome Biden’s proposal to suspend patents,” Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said as he arrived in Porto. “But we think it’s insufficient and that we have to be more ambitious.”
His government sent around a proposal ahead of the meeting calling for accelerating the transfer of technology for making the vaccines to all countries around the world as well as bolstering production and distribution.
Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi said on Thursday that vaccines are a global common good. “The priority is to increase their production, guaranteeing their security, and pull down the obstacles which limit vaccination campaigns,” he said.
The opposition from leading EU powers, as well as drugmakers, suggests the proposal would face a prolonged debate at the WTO, casting doubt on how quickly the waivers could be deployed to help the fight against the pandemic. While EU leaders will discuss the matter at Friday’s summit, it’s unlikely that concrete decisions are imminent.
A European Commission spokeswoman told reporters in Brussels on Friday that it hasn’t held discussions with the Biden administration since the U.S. proposal was made earlier this week. The bloc first needs to define its own position and member states need to give the commission a mandate to negotiate a waiver, the spokeswoman said, adding that this was why the issue would be taken up by EU leaders at their meeting in Porto.