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Interview: The EU vaccines saga

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The European Commission has just launched legal action against AstraZeneca for not respecting the contract for the supply of COVID-19 vaccines. In the contract with the European Commission, the Anglo-Swedish pharmaceutical firm committed itself to make the "best reasonable efforts” to supply 180 million doses to the EU in the second quarter of 2021, in reality in a statement last month AstraZeneca said it would aim to provide only one-third of doses by the end of June. In this challenging context, Federico Grandesso spoke with MEP Tiziana Beghin (pictured), head of Five Star Movement delegation in the European Parliament.

How do you judge the EU vaccine management so far and the overseeing of the EMA? With regard to Italy, could more pragmatic and operational choices be made to secure vaccines?

There have been lights and shadows in the EU management of vaccines. Surely the choice to leave the dialogue with the pharmaceutical companies to the European Commission was the right one because it prevented “the law of the strongest” from winning in Europe with an internal war between member states over vaccine grabbing. This did not happen and the vaccines are now purchased by the European Commission and then redistributed to individual states on the basis of transparent criteria such as the inhabitants or the health emergency that the country is experiencing. Having said that, we must change pace: there have been underestimations, perhaps in good faith, in the writing of contracts and we are suffering the blockade of exports from the USA and Great Britain.

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Vaccines is turning into a business for Big Pharma Companies but in the meantime there have been over 800,000 deaths from Coronavirus in Europe. Citizens trust the opinions of the scientific world and the EMA but these must be communicated with full knowledge of the facts, timing and certainty, otherwise there is a risk of fueling a climate of mistrust. We think an acceleration is needed to increase the European industrial production of vaccines, while also guaranteeing certainty for the entire supply chain of the necessary raw materials. We can therefore only share the appeal of 100 Nobel laureates and 75 former Heads of State to the President of the United States Joe Biden for the suspension of patent rights on vaccines. The European Union also has its responsibilities and, in the World Trade Organization, must support this proposal of common sense. Faced with a pandemic that has so far killed almost 3 million people in the world, there is no profit: the same international rules provide for the legal instruments to suspend patents on anti-Covid vaccines and start a production that is still not enough today to cover the needs of citizens. It is also a public health issue to avoid the spread of new and more dangerous variants.

The Italian Deputy Minister for Health Pierpaolo Sileri, in an interview, suggested the possibility of using the Sputnik V after EMA approval. What do you think? Deputy Minister Sileri would also have extended the discussion to the Chinese vaccine as well. What is your opinion about that?

Vaccines belong to everyone and must be used to save lives. If the Russian and Chinese vaccines are effective in achieving these goals, I am convinced that Ema will authorize their use within the European Union. However, I remember that we already have four different vaccines currently authorized - Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Moderna and Janssen - and that these, if the pharmaceutical companies respect the commitments made, are already an excellent shield to protect all citizens and ensure that the vaccination campaign covers the highest possible percentage of the population by this summer.

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Commission approves €1.8 million Latvian scheme to support cattle farmers affected by the coronavirus outbreak

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The European Commission has approved a €1.8 million Latvian scheme to support farmers active in the cattle-breeding sector affected by the coronavirus outbreak. The scheme was approved under the State Aid Temporary Framework. Under the scheme, the aid will take the form of direct grants. The measure aims at mitigating the liquidity shortages that the beneficiaries are facing and at addressing part of the losses they incurred due to the coronavirus outbreak and the restrictive measures that the Latvian government had to implement to limit the spread of the virus. The Commission found that the scheme is in line with the conditions of the Temporary Framework.

In particular, the aid (i) will not exceed €225,000 per beneficiary; and (ii) will be granted no later than 31 December 2021. The Commission concluded that the measure is necessary, appropriate and proportionate to remedy a serious disturbance in the economy of a member state, in line with Article 107(3)(b) TFEU and the conditions set out in the Temporary Framework. On this basis, the Commission approved the scheme under EU state aid rules. More information on the Temporary Framework and other actions taken by the Commission to address the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic can be found here. The non-confidential version of the decision will be made available under the case number SA.64541 in the state aid register on the Commission's competition website once any confidentiality issues have been resolved.

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Commission approves €500,000 Portuguese scheme to further support the passenger transport sector in Azores in the context of the coronavirus outbreak

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The European Commission has approved a €500,000 Portuguese scheme to further support the passenger transport sector in the Region of the Azores in the context of the coronavirus outbreak. The measure was approved under the State Aid Temporary Framework. It follows another Portuguese scheme to support the passenger transport sector in Azores that the Commission approved on 4 June 2021 (SA.63010). Under the new scheme, the aid will take the form of direct grants. The measure will be open to collective passenger transport companies of all sizes active in the Azores. The purpose of the measure is to mitigate the sudden liquidity shortages that these companies are facing and to address losses incurred over 2021 due to the coronavirus outbreak and the restrictive measures that the government had to implement to limit the spread of the virus.

The Commission found that the Portuguese scheme is in line with the conditions set out in the Temporary Framework. In particular, the aid (i) will not exceed €1.8 million per company; and (ii) will be granted no later than 31 December 2021. The Commission concluded that the measure is necessary, appropriate and proportionate to remedy a serious disturbance in the economy of a member state, in line with Article 107(3)(b) TFEU and the conditions of the Temporary Framework. On this basis, the Commission approved the measure under EU state aid rules. More information on the Temporary Framework and other actions taken by the Commission to address the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic can be found here. The non-confidential version of the decision will be made available under the case number SA.64599 in the state aid register on the Commission's competition website once any confidentiality issues have been resolved.

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Commission authorizes French aid scheme of €3 billion to support, through loans and equity investments, companies affected by the coronavirus pandemic

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The European Commission has cleared, under EU state aid rules, France's plans to set up a € 3 billion fund that will invest through debt instruments and equity and hybrid instruments in companies affected by the pandemic. The measure was authorized under the Temporary State Aid Framework. The scheme will be implemented through a fund, titled 'Transition Fund for Businesses Affected by the COVID-19 Pandemic', with a budget of € 3bn.

Under this scheme, support will take the form of (i) subordinated or participating loans; and (ii) recapitalization measures, in particular hybrid capital instruments and non-voting preferred shares. The measure is open to companies established in France and present in all sectors (except the financial sector), which were viable before the coronavirus pandemic and which have demonstrated the long-term viability of their economic model. Between 50 and 100 companies are expected to benefit from this scheme. The Commission considered that the measures complied with the conditions set out in the temporary framework.

The Commission concluded that the measure was necessary, appropriate and proportionate to remedy a serious disturbance in the economy of France, in accordance with Article 107 (3) (b) TFEU and the conditions set out in the temporary supervision. On this basis, the Commission authorized these schemes under EU state aid rules.

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Executive Vice President Margrethe Vestager (pictured), competition policy, said: “This €3bn recapitalization scheme will allow France to support companies affected by the coronavirus pandemic by facilitating their access funding in these difficult times. We continue to work closely with member states to find practical solutions to mitigate the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic while respecting EU regulations.”

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