European Union leaders met Thursday at a virtual summit designed to push AstraZeneca to speed up its deliveries of tens of millions of Covid-19 vaccines bound for the bloc, hoping to present a united front as it continues to wrangle with the drug giant over the shortfall.
But the virtual summit exposed tense divisions within the EU itself; several countries expressed concerns that doses are being distributed unfairly around the region, and part of the meeting was hijacked by Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, who demanded a greater share of shots for his country.
“We have worked hard to ensure that the gap within the #EU in terms of vaccination coverage for the population does not widen any further," Kurz tweeted after the meeting, adding that he expects "a fairer delivery of vaccines in the EU" in the coming months.
What the EU agreed: The EU has been engaged in a tense back-and-forth with AstraZeneca over vaccine supplies to the bloc after the firm said it would not be able to meet its full delivery targets.
That shortfall has led to internal squabbles over which countries are prioritised when sought-after vaccine deliveries arrive. EU leaders agreed Thursday to tighten rules to allow for an export ban on vaccines but has so far stopped short on actually imposing a ban.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the bloc will create “transparency” by introducing a principle of proportionality and reciprocity on vaccine supply chains.
In a swipe targeted at Britain, she added that she had "no knowledge so far of UK exports," essentially accusing it of implementing a de facto export ban. Von der Leyen said she was "waiting for that transparency."
The UK's vaccine rollout has far outpaced Europe's, but the country, which recently left the EU, relies on exports from the bloc for some of its doses.
“The bottom line is: we invite others to match our openness,” von der Leyen said.
The background: Rising coronavirus infection rates across much of Europe have created an increasingly dire backdrop to the quarrelling. France imposed tougher restrictions on social gatherings on Thursday as it battles a third wave of Covid-19, while sharp rises in case loads have been reported this week in Germany, Poland and the Netherlands.
Von der Leyen said she still expects to achieve the goal of vaccinating 70% of the EU's adult population by this summer.
“But of course we all know we could have been much faster if all pharmaceutical companies had fulfilled their contracts,” she added.