Work on Covid-19 certificates to be moved forward as a ‘matter of urgency’

Michel to Biden: Your election is a historic opportunity to deepen our historic bond

Photo: EU EU leaders exchanged views with US President Joe Biden on Thursday evening.

After almost nine hours of discussions during their video conference on Thursday, EU leaders made decisions on a long list of issues. Against the backdrop of a new sharp rise in infections and a shortage of vaccines across Europe, the most important topic was ensuring the supply of Covid-19 jabs and their equitable distribution among Member States.

They confirmed the pro-rata population key for the allocation of jabs and forwarded the file to the EU ambassadors to address the issue of the speed of deliveries of vaccines when allocating the additional 10 million BioNTech-Pfizer doses in the second quarter “in a spirit of solidarity”.

This adjustment came after Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czechia, Latvia and Slovenia in February complained to the EU Commission that vaccines were not distributed according to the countries’ population.

At a news conference, Michel said that on the number one priority – to overcome Covid-19, “it is absolutely vital that over the next few weeks we step up and speed up the vaccine production and distribution to the Member States”.

Saying that the epidemiological situation is of great concern, EC President Ursula von der Leyen underlined that infections are on the rise again, mostly due to the variant B.1.1.7 that is basically now in every Member State. “We are at the start of a third wave in Europe,” she stressed.

The EC President outlined that now vaccination is finally progressing steadily, 88 million doses have been delivered so far and 62 million doses have been administered. She also said that 4.1% of Europeans have already received two jabs.

On the supply of vaccines in the second quarter, she explained that BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccine that requires only a single shot for a full vaccination are expected to increase their deliveries, as is contracted.

AstraZeneca has committed to a lower number of doses than was contracted. In April-June the company committed to 70 million doses instead of the contracted 180 million doses.

If we have a look at the second quarter, what is committed, it means that we are on track to achieve our goal: that this summer, we want to have 70% of the adult population in the European Union vaccinated, von der Leyen stated.

The participants in the sitting also underscored that the epidemiological situation remains serious, with the new variants posing challenges, so restrictions, including as regards non-essential travel, must be upheld for the time being.

They also specified that still the unhindered flow of goods and services within the Single Market must continue to be ensured, including by making use of “green lanes”.

“Preparations should nevertheless start on a common approach to the gradual lifting of restrictions, to ensure that efforts are coordinated when the epidemiological situation allows for an easing of current measures”, the members of the European Council said in a statement.

They also pointed out that legislative and technical work on Covid-19 interoperable and non-discriminatory digital certificates, based on the Commission proposal, should be taken forward as a matter of urgency.

During the video conference it became clear that the EMA could recommend marketing authorisation for the Russian Sputnik V vaccine in June at the earliest.

On Turkey, President Michel explained that the EUCO has decided to task the Commission and the High Representative to propose “possible positive agenda, but conditional”.

“We thing that Turkey will maintain positive behaviour in the next months. We are ready with the Member States to put more concrete proposals on the table in order to have more stable and predictable relationship with Turkey. The identified topics are modernisation of the Customs Union, people to people contacts and mobility and migration,” Michel underscored.

Formal decisions will be taken at the summit in June. At a video conference last Friday, von der Leyen and Michel discussed with Turkish President Erdoğan a possible visit to Ankara following the March European Council.

The leaders were informed as well about the latest developments in the relations between the EU and Russia and will hold a strategic debate at a forthcoming European Council meeting.

Defining this sitting as “exceptional”, EUCO President, pointed out that for the first time in 11 years leaders welcomed the President of the United States to the European Council.

“It was the opportunity for the US President to express his vision of our future cooperation and for us to express our strong commitment to this fundamental transatlantic alliance,” he emphasised.

Getting COVID-19 under control, climate, jobs-rich recovery and economic prosperity, boosting innovation on cutting-edge technologies and defending human rights and dignity, were among the discussed topics.

“Since your election, we have talked a lot about you. Now we are happy to talk directly with you. America is back. And we are happy you are back,” Michel said in his introductory remarks at the videoconference with Biden.

Michel told Biden that his election “is a historic opportunity to re-energise our cooperation and deepen our historic bond”.

The United States is an important and valued partner to the European Union and we want to forge a new EU-U.S. global agenda to meet the challenges, but also to seize the opportunities of our times, von der Leyen commented after the videoconference.

 

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