Ursula von der Leyen snubbed world leaders’ plea for pandemic response

Divisions over the EU’s vaccination crisis have been laid bare after Ursula von der Leyen refused to sign up to a call by more than 20 world leaders for a new global pandemics plan.

The European Commission president’s name was notably absent from the list of signatories backing calls for an international treaty. The list included EU leaders such as Angela Merkel, Emmanuel Macron, and Charles Michel, the European Council president, as well as Boris Johnson.

Other leaders of EU countries, including Mario Draghi of Italy, Pedro Sanchez of Spain, Mark Rutte of the Netherlands, as well as the leaders of Greece, Romania and Portugal, put their names to the call to prevent “isolationism and nationalism” when facing pandemics.

“Indeed the Commission was informed of the op-ed and the scope of the Treaty on Pandemics but chose not to co-sign,” an EU official said.

Mrs von der Leyen’s snub to the call for “universal and equitable access to safe, efficacious and affordable vaccines,” and a global settlement similar to that forged after the Second World War will raise fears she intends to pursue a hardline stance on vaccine export bans.

The Telegraph understands that Mrs von der Leyen was given more than one opportunity to back the pandemic plan.

Sources in Brussels said that the joint statement would have been a very positive sign for resolving the row between the UK and EU over vaccine supplies – had Mrs von der Leyen signed. Negotiations between the UK and Brussels continue this week.

The commission is locked in a bitter dispute with AstraZeneca after the company announced shortfalls in supplies to the bloc. AstraZeneca has committed to deliveries of just 70m doses instead of the promised 180m for the second quarter, which follows delays in the first quarter.

The UK is the main target for these bans because of the ongoing dispute with Brussels over supplies from the two British AstraZeneca factories and the company’s Halix plant in the Netherlands. The commission has threatened to block exports from Halix to the UK, unless the UK drops its first refusal on supplies from ther UK factories to the bloc.

The commission did not confirm or deny that Mrs von der Leyen was given the chance to sign up to the opinion piece.

EU sources suggested Mrs von der Leyen may have refused to sign because she felt the international treaty would overshadow her plans for a Global Health Summit in Rome on May 21.

“Let me emphasise that there is strong cooperation going on between the president and the president of the European Council on future pandemic preparedness,” the commission’s deputy chief spokeswoman said.

Last week EU leaders stopped short of giving Mrs von der Leyen their explicit backing for new European Commission rules allowing Brussels to target countries, like the UK, with higher vaccination rates and low vaccine exports to the EU with bans.

Summit hardliners such as France’s Mr Macron, Mr Draghi and Mr Sanchez, who supported Mrs von der Leyen at Thursday’s European Council, signed the opinion piece, exacerbating the impression of an isolated commission president.

Mr Michel spoke to Mr Johnson last week in a call that was credited as ensuring the UK ultimately supported the move for a new treaty.

Before the summit, Mrs von der Leyen had warned that all options were on the table, including the triggering of Article 122, which would have empowered Brussels to impose bans, seize factories and waive intellectual property and patent rules.

The commission today said that it could still consider the use of the wartime clause, if the new vaccine export rules did not speed up deliveries of jabs to the EU.

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