Ursula von der Leyen – Taoiseach defends EC’s approach in AstraZeneca vaccine dispute
The Taoiseach said president of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen is a “very straight person, very level-headed person, a very rational person.
“So when Ursula makes comments of the kind she has made they are well informed and should be taken seriously,” he said during a wide-ranging interview with CNBC Europe about the impact of Covid-19 on Ireland and the EU, the vaccination programme, Brexit and the €13 billion Apple tax case.
He also rejected suggestions that the row was “another front in the Brexit battle”.
He said that April, May and June will be very significant months for the rollout of the vaccine and will make a “degree of normality” a realistic option for the summer.
During the interview he also repeatedly stressed Ireland’s strengths as a location for foreign direct investment.
CNBC Squawk Box Europe presenter Steve Sedgwick pointed to remarks by AstraZeneca chief executive Pascal Soriot that people were “getting too emotional”, because of the increasing bitterness of the dispute.
But the Taoiseach said Ms von der Leyen “is very focused on getting these issues resolved and transparency is important in all of this”.
A redacted version of the European Commission’s contract with the British-Swedish company has been published and the commission president has rejected Mr Soriot’s claim that the British government had first call on doses produced in the UK.
Mr Martin said there was a lot of pressure on the commission from prime ministers who were under pressure from their own populations because of the impact of the virus on their lives and on the economy.
This was particularly so with the third wave of the virus “and mutations and variants which has caused a new level of uncertainty” and it was a “factor in the clearly tense negotiations”.
Describing Ms von der Leyen as very straight, level-headed and rational, Mr Martin said the issue had caused concern across Europe.
“And the fact that Europe engaged with companies, including investment [in developing the vaccine] and the pre-purchases agreements, did give companies confidence to proceed.”
He said it gave certainty of supply to small countries such as Ireland in the EU which meant they did not have to compete with much larger countries for the product.
“All in all the European Commission have behaved well,” he said.
Dismissing suggestions that the vaccine row is another front in the Brexit battle, he said “it was always inevitable there would be bumps along the way”. “There are clearly challenges in getting volumes out there. What is important when all those bumps happen is that there is full transparency and that is the Commission’s point.”
He was also cautiously optimistic about the opening up of society. Describing April, May and June as very significant months for inoculation, he said.
“I’m under no illusion that the first quarter of the year will have low volumes of vaccines coming in,” but Q2 would be the “key quarter when we would move into higher volumes of vaccines” and ramp up the vaccine programme among the general population.
“I’m comfortable that we have the capacity to do what it takes to roll out a very comprehensive mass vaccine programme in Q2 and Q3.”
That would mean “a degree of normality is realistic by the summer”.