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Merkel convinced of need for a European Health Union

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The European Council welcomed the positive announcements on the development of effective vaccines against COVID-19 and the conclusion of advance purchase agreements by the Commission. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that cooperation has improved since the start of the pandemic and that she was convinced of the need for a future European Health Union.

Health has always been an area that has been jealously guarded by EU member states. While there has always been some degree of cooperation between states in this field, the pandemic demonstrated how the EU could help strengthen national responses. The EU will now take forward proposals for a Health Union. 

The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said that the EU was working full speed on vaccine approval. However, she added that vaccinations and not vaccines saved lives and she called on all countries to finalize their preparations for the timely deployment and distribution of vaccines, including the development of national vaccination strategies, to ensure that vaccines are made available to people in the EU in good time and in a coordinated manner.

The EU will also continue its efforts to contribute to the international response to the pandemic, including via the COVAX facility for guaranteeing affordable and fair access to vaccines for all. Given the enormous impact of the current pandemic the EU wants to reinforce international cooperation and look at the possibility of an international treaty on pandemics within the framework of the World Health Organization.

Brexit

‘It is not a friendly signal from the UK immediately after leaving the European Union’ Borrell

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The EU’s High Representative on Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell, was asked about the decision of the UK to refuse full diplomatic status to the EU Ambassador to the UK Joao Vale de Almeida and his team in London. Borrell said that it was not a friendly signal from the UK immediately after leaving the European Union.

Borrell pointed out that the EU’s 143 delegations around the world had all - without exception - granted the delegations a status equivalent to that under the Vienna Convention. He said that the EU would not accept that the UK would be the only country in the world that will not give the EU delegation the recognition equivalent to that of a diplomatic mission. 

“Granting reciprocal treatment based on the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations is standard practice between equal partners and we are confident that we can clear this issue with our friends in London in a satisfactory manner,” said Peter Stano, the commission’s spokesman for foreign affairs.

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Kyriakides calls on Astra Zeneca to respect delivery schedules for its vaccine

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In response to AstraZeneca’s announcement that they were expecting to make shortfalls in the delivery of its COVID-19 vaccine, Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides has written to AstraZeneca stressing the importance of meeting the delivery schedules laid out in its agreement with the EU. 

Kyriakides reiterated in the letter that the scaling up of the production capacity has to happen concurrently with the conduct of clinical trials to ensure the availability of the vaccines as quickly as possible. The European Medicines Agency (EMA) has not yet given its authorization - a point that has led to criticism from EU states. Her spokesperson said that the scaling up of production was an important premise of the contract. 

The issue will be discussed in a meeting of the steering board made up of the European Commission, member states and the company today (25 January) where it will be made clear that the EU expects contractual obligations to be met. 

Chief Spokesperson for the European Commission Eric Mamer added that European Commission President had spoken with the CEO of AstraZeneca, where she reminded him that the EU has invested significant amounts in scaling up production.  However, she also recognized that production issues can appear with a complex vaccine.

Despite the publicized supply problems at vaccine manufacturer AstraZeneca, Peter Liese MEP (EPP, DE)  said: "AstraZeneca's announcement to reduce the planned supply for the EU from 80 million to 31 million doses in the first quarter must not and will not be the last word. [...] they are apparently delivering to other parts of the world, including the UK without delay. The flimsy justification that there are difficulties in the EU supply chain but not elsewhere does not hold water, as it is of course no problem to get the vaccine from the UK to the continent. 

“The company cannot be interested in permanently damaging its reputation in the world's largest single market. Many in the company seem to be embarrassed by the matter. That's why I expect a change in the delivery plans for the EU in the next few hours, and an accelerated one at that. Even the 31 million doses, however, would be a significant improvement in the situation in the EU.”

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Minister calls for Magnitsky-type sanctions in response to Russia's detention of Navalny

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European foreign ministers meeting today (25 January) will discuss the situation in Russia. Arriving at the meeting, Lithuanian Foreign Affairs Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said that the EU needed to send a clear and decisive message that the arrest of Navalny and the detentions following Saturday’s (23 January) demonstrations in Russia are not acceptable. Landsbergis calls for the use of the Global ‘Magnitsky’ type sanctions. 

The EU has already condemned the detention of the Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny upon his return to Moscow (17 January) and called for his immediate release - as well, as the release of journalists and citizens who were detalined on Mr Navalny’s return to Russia. The EU has also called out the politicization of the judiciary in Russia. 

The European Union has already condemned the assassination attempt, through poisoning using a military chemical nerve agent of the Novichok group, on Alexei Navalny, to which it responded by imposing restrictive measures on six individuals and one entity. The EU has called upon the Russian authorities to urgently investigate the assassination attempt on Navalny in full transparency and without further delay, and to fully cooperate with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to ensure an impartial international investigation.

It appears that the EU will request the immediate release of Navalny and others, before a possible visit of the EU High Representative Josep Borrell to Russia before imposing sanctions.

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