The three largest political groups within the European Parliament have decided to block a proposal by members of the European Parliament (MEPs) to summon the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, to a hearing regarding the Union’s negotiations with Pfizer over the purchase of COVID-19 vaccines.
Following a closed meeting with the President of the European Parliament and the leaders of all political groups in the Union’s legislative assembly on Thursday, it became clear that both the nominally conservative EPP group, the social democratic S&D group and Renew Europe are opposed to a parliamentary cross-examination of von der Leyen, Politico states.
Thus, the public remain without access to the much-discussed text messages between the European Commission president and Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla, communication that occurred in connection with the negotiations of the EU’s purchase of COVID-19 vaccines from the pharmaceutical company, a contract worth several tens of billions of euros.
The party leadership group decided that Ursula von der Leyen will instead answer questions in a closed assembly.
However, at a closed-door meeting Thursday of the Conference of Presidents (CoP) — which includes the heads of all the political groups and the Parliament’s president — leaders refused the request to hold a public grilling. Instead they decided to ask von der Leyen to answer questions in private at some point in the future, watering down the invitation to almost nothing.
«It was agreed that CoP will be able to raise … [the Parliament’s COVID-19 committee’s] concerns in their next regular meeting with the president of the Commission,» said an EU official with knowledge of the confidential discussions.
Three other political groups in the European Parliament – European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), Identity and Democracy (ID) and the red-green GUE/NGL group – criticize the decision.
Two groups — the right wing European Conservatives and Reformists group and the far-right Identity and Democracy groups — pushed for more accountability for von der Leyen by requesting that she either address the full plenary or speak in front of the dedicated COVID panel.
And, following the meeting, a spokesperson for the Left group said: «It’s good that she comes to talk about it in the CoP but we think Parliament should also have a public hearing with VDL on it, not just the Conference of Presidents.
The decision is a significant loss for the European Parliament’s special COVID-19 committee, which has been pushing for a public hearing with von der Leyen, writes Politico.
Dutch MEP Robert Roos, who belongs to the ECR group, calls the decision shameful. – Von der Leyen negotiated a multibillion dollar deal with EU taxpayer money and she must be held accountable, a secret backdoor meeting with only the presidents of the political groups is not accountability, says Roos.
Simultaneously, the Union is trying to reach an agreement with Pfizer to cancel deliveries. Unused COVID-19 vaccines are piling up within the EU, with waste management as its most likely fate.