European Commission secrecy about COVID-19 vaccine contracts unacceptable and bad for confidence

12 November 2020

The European Commission is refusing the European Parliament, and with it all European citizens, access to the negotiations and contracts the Commission is entering into with companies for the purchase of coronavirus vaccines.

Geert Bourgeois, head of the N-VA delegation, is unhappy about the Commission’s lack of transparency. Especially in these populist times, there must be complete clarity in order to build a foundation of confidence. Citizens must have the opportunity to assess the quality and process of these huge vital investments paid for with public money.”

Business interests of the producers

In the context of public access to government, MEP Geert Bourgeois asked as early as 4 September for essential information about the vaccine contracts to be released. The Commission refuses on the grounds of the producers’ business interests and the possible impact on the ongoing negotiations.

Geert Bourgeois appealed against this refusal, on which the Commission has not yet taken a decision. Commissioner Stella Kyriakides made a disappointing statement on this during the plenary session today.

Build good governance and confidence

In the context of good governance and to build confidence among citizens to have themselves vaccinated, the release of essential information is necessary, Geert Bourgeois believes. The fact that the Commissioner herself admitted at the end of the debate that “transparency does indeed lead to trust” makes the refusal all the more incomprehensible.

It is acceptable for there to be a non-disclosure agreement regarding sensitive corporate information such as development and production plans. However, it is imperative for the Commission to provide reliable information on the results of clinical trials in the course of the process.

The Commissioner’s very general statement that the European Medicines Agency “will do everything it can to guarantee safety” is not sufficient in this regard.

Who is liable?

The Commission’s answer is also by no means sufficient concerning the doubts that arise as to who is liable for what. She limits herself to the self-evident “there will be no deviation from the rules that apply” regarding liability.

Finally, Geert Bourgeois asked for the names of the negotiating team to be released to remove any doubt about potential conflicts of interest. The Commission, which is always ready to lecture others in the areas of transparency and good governance, has not responded to this, either.

“These are not things to be dealt with lightly. Especially in these populist times, there must be complete clarity in order to build a foundation of confidence,” MEP Geert Bourgeois says.

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