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Von der Leyen texting controversy with Pfizer CEO – Coronavirus
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Von der Leyen texting controversy with Pfizer CEO – Coronavirus
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The European Commission was pinned this Friday by the EU Ombudsman after its refusal to transmit to the press text messages exchanged by its president with the CEO of Pfizer on the purchase of vaccines against covid-19.

EU Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly has called for Ursula von der Leyen’s office to carry out “further research” to find text messages exchanged between the President of the European Commission and the CEO of Pfizer, and assess whether their content can be revealed in accordance with the transparency rules applicable to EU documents.

The Commission will consider updating its policy on access to documents, said a spokesperson interviewed during a press briefing on Friday, without wanting to give more details.

A journalist requested access to the text messages

After a New York Times article in April 2021 reporting that Ursula von der Leyen had exchanged text messages with Pfizer boss Albert Bourla as part of negotiations on a contract to purchase covid-19 vaccines, a journalist asked the Commission for access to text messages and other documents relating to these discussions.

The European executive, which was in charge of negotiating vaccine purchases on behalf of the Member States, agreed to send him three documents (an email, a letter and a press release) but no SMS.

A response that does not meet “transparency expectations”

“No attempt was made to identify whether the text messages in question existed. This way of acting does not meet expectations in terms of transparency, ”criticized the mediator, Emily O’Reilly, seized by the journalist.

She has given the Commission until April 26 to respond to her recommendations, which are however not binding.

Text messages not subject to transparency rules

The European executive had indicated that no recording of these messages had been kept, considering that the text messages were not subject to the rules on the transparency of the European institutions dating from 2001.

In the context of the investigation initiated by the Ombudsman, the Commission argued that these messages are “by nature documents of a short lifespan, which do not in principle contain important information relating to the policies, activities and decisions of the Commission”.

The mediator calls for a change in practices

For the mediator on the contrary, “it is clear” that the text messages “come within the framework of European legislation on public access to documents” and “the public can have access to them if they concern the work of the institution “.

She called on the European administration to change its document retention practices to take into account “modern means of communication”.

Pfizer accounts for more than half of vaccine doses purchased by EU

More than half of the 4.2 billion doses against covid-19 purchased or reserved by the EU are supplied by the American-German duo Pfizer-BioNTech.

Key aspects of contracts with labs, including prices, are confidential, which has drawn criticism from MEPs and NGOs.

“This case is more important than a simple exchange of SMS,” said Dutch MEP Sophie in’t Veld (Renew Europe). “The European Commission has become less transparent, less accountable to the European Parliament and frankly more disconnected from European democracy,” she denounced, calling on the European Parliament to react.

Von der Leyen texting controversy with Pfizer CEO – Coronavirus
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