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EU economy commissioner: ‘Completely unfair’ to accuse EU of vaccine protectionism

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“To describe the EU as a sort of protectionist or nationalist bloc on vaccines is completely unfair.” Those are the words of EU’s Economy Commissioner and Italy’s former prime minister Paolo Gentiloni after the commission threatened to block Covid-19 vaccine consignments to vaccine-producing countries that are not exporting any vaccines themselves.

The announcement by Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Thursday that “all options are available” to secure the EU’s contracted vaccine supply, prompted British Foreign Minister Dominic Raab to accuse the EU of behaving like “countries with less democratic regimes than our own”.

In an interview with FRANCE 24, Gentiloni says it is a question of reciprocity: “We have evidence of how many doses of vaccines were exported from the EU to the UK since we have this transparency mechanism… Eleven million doses. From the UK, how many AstraZeneca doses were exported to the EU? Zero. Nobody is being protectionist, but reciprocity is important.”

Meanwhile, as new coronavirus restrictions are imposed in various parts of Europe, questions are being asked about when and how the European economy will get going again. In the Eurozone, the economy shrank by almost 7 percent in 2020. And although growth is predicted, it’s not going to be a so-called v-shaped recovery, according to the EU’s own predictions of just 3.8 percent Eurozone growth in 2021.

Gentiloni says the delays in vaccinating Europeans should not derail the long-term picture. “We were expecting to go more quickly towards the recovery, and we are in fact going towards the recovery a little bit slower. But I am quite confident that when the recovery will strongly begin, with the pent-up demand that we will have, we will have a level of growth that is absolutely comparable to this [forecast of] around 4 percent for 2021 and 2022.”

On funding the economic recovery in the EU, the head of the European Central Bank, Christine Lagarde, has warned against “too much procrastination” in getting money from the €750 billion EU recovery fund to member states. Commissioner Gentiloni says he sees the process as being on track. “We need speed, but also quality. And I’m sure that by April, we will be able to have a large part of the plans presented by member states and then the process approved.”

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