EU on brink as Germany ‘used bloc as tool’ amid outrage at Berlin over vaccine demand

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Germany has demanded the European Commission gives members the power to stop EU-based pharmaceutical companies exporting their coronavirus vaccines outside the bloc. Major divisions have emerged as fears grow the bloc could have a shortfall in its supply of the vaccine to give to the public. This rebellion is being led by Germany, with health minister Jens Spahn wanting companies to “obtain permission” before exporting jabs from the bloc.

He raged that it was about ensuring Europe “got its fair share” of the vaccine, adding it would allow the EU to know “what’s produced in Europe, what is leaving Europe, where it’s leaving Europe for, so we have a fair distribution”.

The Commission itself ruled out Mr Spahn’s plea, with one diplomat arguing “blocking exports might be a little too much, since it would start a trade war with the US”.

The Financial Times reported the insider added such a move would come “six days after saying we should rebuild transatlantic relations”.

Germany’s reluctance to follow the EU line is not uncommon as Turkey once attacked Berlin by alleging it was using the bloc “as a tool” as a row over its entrance to Brussels raged.

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel demanded Turkey’s EU membership talks be scrapped, but other foreign ministers within the bloc objected to her calls, a move welcomed by Turkish minister Omer Celik.

The row emerged after 2016’s coup against Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which was unsuccessful in its plot to overthrow the government.

Mrs Merkel demanded Mr Erdogan deal with those behind the coup “lawfully” after the Turkish leader said “they will pay a heavy price for this act of treason”.

It deepened tensions further between Turkey and Germany, particularly as Mrs Merkel used a 2017 election discussion to detail her desire for the EU to end Ankara’s accession talks.

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Mr Celik said Germany’s intervention put the bloc’s reputation at risk, as it dragged countries hoping for unity into diplomatic disputes.

He added at a press conference: “Those who are at the moment coming up with fresh arguments (against Turkey joining) are actually trying to use the EU in order to tackle bilateral problems.

“The EU should not be used as a tool to counter the bilateral problems of any of the countries.”

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Mr Erdogan also continued the feud by claiming Mrs Merkel’s comments were like “Nazism”.

Around 300 people died in the coup five years ago, and after around 50,000 people were arrested in the nation, including some German citizens.

Mr Erdogan called on Turks in Germany to not vote for Mrs Merkel in the 2017 election, with Mr Celik adding: “I can tell you we are definitely uncomfortable in terms of the arguments put forward by German politicians.

“They cannot spend a day without having some kind of remarks to our president and politicians.

“I think this is a vicious cycle that we need to break and we should definitely focus on the future.”

More recently, the EU has seen itself fall well behind the UK and US for the pace in which it is offering citizens a Covid-19 vaccination.

Among the reasons suggested for the slow roll-out include the bloc’s hesitation in approving AstraZeneca’s vaccine.

This has led to an outpouring of anger, particularly towards the bloc, as it sees other nations rolling out fast vaccination programmes.

Among options Brussels will continue to explore, to overhaul its current jab plight, include the temporary export of certain products needing authorisation by relevant member states.

Mr Spahn’s comments counteracted Mrs Merkel, who spoke to the World Economic Forum regarding the dangers of “isolation and partitioning Europe from the rest of the world”.

She said that the EU must “choose a multilateral approach”, adding: “Money is one thing, but at a time when vaccines are scarce it’s also about distributing them fairly.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson also told the EU to not impose export restrictions of any kind, after fears emerged the UK’s vaccine programme could be thrown off course.

He said: “The creation of these vaccines has been a wonderful example of multinational cooperation and one of the lessons the world has to learn from the pandemic is to cooperate.

“So I don’t want to see restrictions on the supply of personal protective equipment (PPE), drugs or vaccines or their ingredients across the border.”

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