A 'cold shower for Europeans': EU press gives damning verdict of AstraZeneca row

James Crisp
·5-min read
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen speaks during a joint news conference with European Council President Charles Michel at the end of a EU summit video conference at the European Council headquarters in Brussels, Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021. European Union leaders assessed more measures to counter the spread of coronavirus variants during a video summit Thursday as the bloc's top disease control official said urgent action was needed to stave off a new wave of hospitalizations and deaths. (Olivier Hoslet, Pool Photo via AP) - Olivier Hoslet/Pool EPA
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen speaks during a joint news conference with European Council President Charles Michel at the end of a EU summit video conference at the European Council headquarters in Brussels, Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021. European Union leaders assessed more measures to counter the spread of coronavirus variants during a video summit Thursday as the bloc's top disease control official said urgent action was needed to stave off a new wave of hospitalizations and deaths. (Olivier Hoslet, Pool Photo via AP) - Olivier Hoslet/Pool EPA
Coronavirus Article Bar with counter ..
Coronavirus Article Bar with counter ..

Europe’s press has again given wide-ranging coverage to the row between Britain and the EU over the supply of vaccines, with one paper saying that Boris Johnson’s “gamble” in getting a head-start on production had paid off.

The EU has urged AstraZeneca to divert millions of doses from UK plants, but the British government has resisted those demands.

Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister, told the BBC on Thursday: "The supplies that have been planned, paid for and scheduled should continue."

Asked whether he would allow vaccines manufactured in the UK to be diverted to the EU, he said "no", adding that there must be no interruption to the British vaccination programme.

AstraZeneca says it can only deliver the EU a fraction of the doses between now and March due to production problems at plants in Europe.

De Standaard, a Belgian newspaper, said the success of the Prime Minister’s move was a source of great frustration to the French, in particular, who are lagging far behind in their vaccine programme.

Watch: EU sharpens knives in battle for vaccine

It suggested that Brexiteers would take heart from that because Paris had regularly taken a hardline stance in the Brexit negotiations.

The Flemish newspaper said that Mr Johnson liked to take risks and in this case, as opposed to in Brexit, the gambit had worked.

Another Belgian paper, Het Nieuwsblad, said the unprecedented public attacks by the European Commission were designed to bring AstraZeneca "to its knees".

"These doses are crucial to give a long-awaited boost to slow European vaccination campaigns," the paper said.

It quoted Hendrik Vos, a professor of European politics, who said the Commission wanted to prove the shortfall was not its fault.

'Brussels challenges AstraZeneca' says Italy's La Repubblica newspaper - La Repubblica
'Brussels challenges AstraZeneca' says Italy's La Repubblica newspaper - La Repubblica

In France, Le Figaro said the EU was “seeing red” over the AstraZeneca row.

"The European Commission demands explanations after the announcement of significant delays in vaccine deliveries," writes the conservative French daily.

"Already very tense at the start of the week, relations between the European Commission and AstraZeneca descended into a slanging match" after an interview the vaccine company's boss Pascal Soriot gave to the paper and other EU publications.

Le Figaro described AstraZeneca's initial hesitations over attending talks with the EU as "very electric and hardly courteous".

It called the announced drop in supplies a "cold shower for Europeans".

France has seen its expected quota slump from 17.5 million doses to nine million and now 4.6 million.

"Nothing at this stage suggests the Anglo-Swedish group will make up for this delay," said the paper.

Downing Street's reaction to the drama, it said, served as a "thinly-veiled reminder that the UK has left the EU and now sings from its own hymn sheet."

In an article called "AstraZeneca, at the heart of the vaccine war between London and Brussels," Le Monde writes that the issue is over "one contract, two interpretations".

It cites French MEP Véronique Trillet-Lenoir as saying: "We must make sure AstraZeneca isn't giving preference to the highest bidder, and more specifically the UK, which is paying more for its vaccines than the EU."

European newspapers have in some cases responded negatively towards the EU - La Vanguardia
European newspapers have in some cases responded negatively towards the EU - La Vanguardia

In Italy, Corriere della Sera has a front page story which says that the "arm wrestling between Brussels and the British-Swedish company AstraZeneca continues."

"In Italy, 3.4 million doses will be delivered by March instead of the 16 million expected."

There is a strong Brexit factor in the row, the paper says. "Brexit, which came into effect on Jan 1, has raised suspicions of preferential supplies being directed to Britain. It is hard not to think that national and geopolitical factors are involved."

"Brussels challenges AstraZeneca" is the front page headline in La Repubblica, which says the supply of vaccines is "in crisis in the whole of Europe." The UK and the EU are in a post-Brexit "battle" over jabs, the paper says.

It accuses British tabloids of stoking the row and cites an editorial in The Sun titled "Euro mafia".

"The war over vaccines between the EU and Britain has only just started," says the daily.

The front page of El Pais on Thursday  - El Pais
The front page of El Pais on Thursday - El Pais

In Spain, El País opens its front page with the headline: “The shortage of vaccines against an out of control virus strains Europe”.

El Mundo reports that “vaccination is under threat in 10 Spanish regions due to purchase failure”.

The newspaper says that Madrid has been joined by Valencia and Cantabria in abandoning new vaccination first doses until new stocks arrive, and that the process has had to be slowed down in a majority of areas due to delays and smaller deliveries than expected.

“Moderna is delayed, Pfizer sends fewer vaccines and we don’t know anything about AstraZeneca,” said a Catalan heath official.

An El Mundo editorial accused the EU of a “failure” on vaccine procurement, citing a “lack of coordination between member states to articulate a homogeneous process” which is “ruining the prospect of achieving herd immunity after the summer”.

El País’s editorial was less damning, but also expressed concern about what the problems in delivering on vaccination campaigns in European countries could do to the Union.

“A failure of the vaccination plan would unleash a crisis of confidence in the competence of European institutions that would be hard to mend.”

Watch: AstraZeneca Fails to Soothe EU Ire Over Vaccine-Delivery Delays