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PORTO, Portugal – EU leaders have a question for the President of the United States about the waiver of vaccination patents: How exactly will it work, Joe?
Joe Biden may have turned on Europe with his surprise proposal to suspend intellectual property rights, but at a European Council summit in Porto, Portugal, senior EU officials are harshly pushing back, saying Washington has not come up with a concrete plan , and that in the near future, abandoning patents would not contribute to the need to increase production immediately and urgently.
“When it comes to intellectual property, we do not think in the short term that it is the magic bullet, but we are ready to look into this as soon as a concrete proposal is put on the table,” said European Council President Charles Michel , on Saturday morning, on Friday evening, an approximately three-hour discussion among the heads of state and government about the pandemic will be summarized.
“We all agree that we must do everything we can to increase vaccine production around the world,” said Michel.
French President Emmanuel Macron urged the USA and Great Britain to take more important steps first: end the de facto bans on vaccine exports; sharing technology to increase production; and donation of existing cans.
“The Anglo-Saxons must first end their export bans,” Macron said of the US and UK
Renouncing patents, according to the French President, should be fourth on the list of priorities. “If we want to work fast, there is no factory in the world today that cannot produce cans for poor countries because of its intellectual property,” Macron said, arriving at the summit. “The priority today is not intellectual property – it’s not true. We’d be lying to ourselves. It’s production. “
Companies that want to make vaccines with a waiver recognize that changing intellectual property rules would not mean they could start producing cans immediately. But they say it would be an important step in allowing more manufacturers to make the vaccines.
During the discussion of the heads of state and government’s dinner, Chancellor Angela Merkel, who attended remotely via video link, warned her colleagues that Biden’s proposal needed careful consideration, noting that a patent waiver was more for a geopolitical rival like China Manufacturing capacity could use Western mRNA technology to help needy countries in Africa obtain vaccines.
The criticism of Biden meant an escalation in competition for supremacy in vaccine diplomacy – a geopolitical battle in which China, Russia and the UK are also fully involved. And it came just as EU leaders were preparing for a video conference with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a patent waiver whose country was facing a devastating surge in infections.
European leaders have been on the defensive since Biden’s announcement, which they see as a smart – and somewhat crazy – PR maneuver.
Despite EU leaders announcing urgent plans to help India, Biden has upgraded Europe by first announcing donations of millions of doses of AstraZeneca vaccine to India and then reversing course and advocating patent surrender. India is a pharmaceutical manufacturing powerhouse and perhaps the country best positioned to benefit from Biden’s plan.
The competition for influence extends beyond India, however. At a press conference in Porto on Friday evening, the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, stated that the EU had already activated plans to transfer more than 600,000 doses to countries in the Western Balkans and similar donations for countries in the overarching group of the Eastern Partnership was planned for Eastern Europe and the Caucasus.
This group includes Ukraine, which has asked Washington for vaccination aid – to no avail – and to which Foreign Minister Antony Blinken only paid a visit this week.
Von der Leyen and other EU heads of state and government repeatedly stressed that, among democracies, only countries in the EU internal market had exported large quantities of vaccines when they accused the US leader of lack of details.
When asked about the patent question, von der Leyen said: “We should be open to this discussion, but if we lead this discussion there has to be a 360-degree view of it, because we now need vaccines for the whole world. In the short and medium term, the IP waiver will not solve the problems and in the short and medium term it will not bring a single dose of vaccine. ”
“The European Union is the only continent or the only democratic region in the world that exports on a large scale,” added von der Leyen. “Around 50 percent of the products manufactured in Europe are exported” – around 200 million cans worldwide.
Macron reiterated the point on Saturday morning, saying that waiving patents could be useful, but only in conjunction with other steps.
“It is a false debate to say that this is the emergency,” Macron said. “The urgent need is to produce more and have more solidarity.” He added, “If we want to put the cart in front of the horse, it won’t work.”
The Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo summed up the view of the EU heads of state and government as follows: “As Europeans we do not need to be trained. The US has not exported a single vaccine in the last six months. Europe is the one that produces for itself and itself the rest of the world in the last six months. “
Hanne Cokelaere and Ashleigh Furlong contributed to the coverage.