Belgium, (Brussels Morning Newspaper) EU Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly criticised the EC for lack of transparency in COVID-19 vaccine procurement.
She accused the Commission of maladministration and opaqueness, saying it had refused to share communication between EC President Ursula von der Leyen and US Pfizer pharmaceutical company CEO Albert Bourla, DW reports.
Last year, the New York Times reported that the EC denied journalists access to correspondence between von der Leyen and Bourla about the COVID-19 vaccine procurement for the EU. The paper noted that journalists who asked for the correspondence were told that the EC does not keep records of text communications.
“This falls short of reasonable expectations of transparency and administrative standards in the Commission”, O’Reilly stated. “When it comes to the right of public access to EU documents, it is the content of the document that matters and not the device or form.”
She stressed that access to such documents is “a fundamental right” and called on the EC to update its policies and practices to bring them in line with the principles of transparency.
EC defends decision
EC officials had claimed that such messages do not contain relevant information and are temporary, adding that this justifies the decision not to keep a record of them.
O’Reilly pointed out that the EC does not need to keep records of all text messages, but stressed the importance of keeping relevant ones. The Commission has three months to respond to O’Reilly’s call for transparency.
The EU has been opaque about its procurement of COVID-19 vaccines and many questions remain about dealings between governing bodies and large pharmaceutical companies when it comes to vaccine procurement.
Dutch MEP Sophie in ‘t Veld echoed O’Reilly’s criticism, suggesting that the EP has been “too cosy” with the EC’s transparency issues.
“This is bigger than just text messaging between von der Leyen and Pfizer”, she noted, complaining that “the EC has become less transparent, less accountable to the EP and frankly more unhinged from European democracy.”According to von der Leyen, the EC’s deal with Pfizer was the largest contract for COVID-19 vaccines. The EU had secured hundreds of millions of doses before the EC closed the deal with Pfizer in May.