EU Ombudsman: EC hides Correspondence between Von der Layen and Pfizer
The EU's ombudsman today criticized the European Commission for failing to release text messages between its president, Ursula von der Leyen, and Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla, Reuters reported.
The two exchanged text messages before concluding the deal for the vaccines against COVID-19 between the EC and the pharmaceutical giant.
In an interview in April 2021, Von der Layen revealed that she had exchanged text messages with Bourla for a month while they were negotiating a contract for the supply of vaccines. In response to a request for access to public information from the journalist Alexander Fanta from the website netzpolitik.org, the Commission stated that there were no records of the exchanged messages.
“The lack of a specific response to this request for access to public information means that no attempt has been made to establish whether there have been such reports at all. This does not meet the reasonable expectations for transparency and administrative standards in the EC,” said Ombudsman Emily O'Reilly.
She also asked the Commission to re-examine the availability of the relevant communications and to respond to the recommendations by 26 April.
“The ombudsman concluded that this was mismanagement,” the statement said.
An EC spokesman has so far declined to comment to Reuters but said they would respond to the ombudsman within the deadline. The Ombudsman's recommendations are not legally binding but usually lead to increased scrutiny by the European Parliament.
The deal, concluded after negotiations via text messages and telephone conversations, as Von der Leyen herself admitted in an interview with the New York Times, is the largest contract ever signed for the supply of vaccines against COVID-19. The EU is committed to buying 900 million doses of Pfizer/Biontech vaccines with the option to buy even more.
When the deal was officially announced in May 2021, the EU had already provided hundreds of millions of doses of vaccine from several pharmaceutical companies, including another 600 million from Pfizer/Biontech under two previous contracts with the two companies.
At the regular briefing, EC spokesman Eric Mamer did not confirm or deny whether there was a recording of the messages in question. The commission may consider changing its access to information policy to include more means of communication, he said in response to a question.
The “Voice” of Brussels clarified that the current policy provides for the preservation of documents whose content has a significant connection with the activities of the Commission. According to him, text messages are not currently considered as a document and therefore do not fall within the scope of the rules. These rules do not provide for every message exchanged to be kept.
“Ursula von der Leyen has been in contact with many people to provide enough vaccines for Europeans,” Mamer said. Representatives of the European Commission and the member states took part in the negotiations with the producers.
The fact that Von der Layen and Bourla wrote messages to each other is understandable because they discussed an issue of high public interest, the spokesman said. The EC will answer the ombudsman whether the messages are kept.
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