On Wednesday, The European Commission signed its fourth contract with a pharmaceutical company for the advance purchase of coronavirus vaccines. Specifically, 300 million of the Pfizer-Biontech doses were secured. However, the EU executive is refusing to publish the details of these contracts. According to Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides, Brussels cannot publish the contracts because they are confidential.
In a debate in the European Parliament, Kyriakides was confronted with complaints from several MPs who have called for more transparency in a process that involves the investing of European funds in risky projects. However, the Cypriot commissioner insisted that the Commission cannot publish the contracts because "confidentiality clauses" prevent them from doing so.
So far, Brussels has agreed on a minimum of 300 million doses for each contract it has signed with AstraZeneca, Sanofi-GSK, Johnson&Johnson and Pfizer-Biontech. The European Comission is also in negotiations with other companies in the sector, such as CureVac. According to Kyriakides, 'the companies require that this sensitive information be kept confidential between the two parties signing the contract'.
Kyriakides has also justified herself by arguing that contracts signed by governments on a bilateral basis cannot be published unilaterally either, and has argued that keeping contracts confidential is not only a matter of protecting the companies' commercial interests but also of not "weakening" the Commission's negotiating position: "We have to be extremely careful during these negotiations so that companies cannot choose the best conditions for themselves".
Governments' risks and responsibilities
Every time a question is asked on the subject, the European Commission reiterates that they are committed to the "safety" of the vaccine. As explained in the European strategy to accelerate the development of the coronavirus vaccine adopted on June 17, "in exchange for advance purchase rights for a specific number of doses, the Commission finances part of the research costs for some of the products". Thus, the initial payment (which is not made public) is considered as an advance payment for the final purchase that will later be made by the Member States.
The common European strategy adopted in June involves the states in all these processes managed by the European Commission, but these states already have responsabilities throughout the subsequent process: "The Commission will be responsible for the public procurement process and for the contracts of the advance purchase agreements, while the purchasing states will assume responsibilities for the deployment and use of the vaccine, including any particular compensation required by a specific advance purchase agreement".