Macron slams 'defeatist' attitudes used towards EU
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French President Emmanuel Macron looked visibly annoyed with reporters at an EU summit in Portugal last week, after being asked about US President Joe Biden’s call for Brussels to waive vaccine patents. Mr Macron, who has been increasingly exasperated with comparisons to the American administration during the course of the pandemic, said: “I ask you, the European press, an almost psychological question. “When a year ago, we Europeans launched ACT-A [a global scheme to fight the coronavirus], you didn’t say ‘Oh, you Europeans have the moral leadership! And ah, the US isn’t following you!'”
The French leader also took the opportunity to urge President Biden to drop restrictions on exports of COVID-19 vaccines and components for the vaccines.
He told the news conference rich nations had to open up their vaccine capacity to help less-developed states.
India and South Africa called last year for the lifting of patent rights to vaccines as a way of boosting manufacturing and ensuring the world is supplied.
Debate around the issue erupted anew last week, when the US President supported the idea, provided it was done through the World Trade Organisation.
However, the EU appears sceptical about the usefulness of waiving patent rights.
The move undermines the EU’s credibility as a supporter of open trade, particularly given that almost a year ago ago, Mr Macron said any vaccine against Covid had to be treated as “public good for the world”.
In May, 2020, Paul Hudson, the CEO of French drug giant Sanofi suggested that the company was planning to give the US early access to any Covid vaccine it developed.
That sparked angry reactions in France.
Mr Macron said any vaccine against COVID-19 had to be treated as “public good for the world, and not subject to the laws of the market”.
He then summoned Sanofi’s top management to the Elysée Palace.
In an interview for the FT’s Global Boardroom event, Mr Hudson said it was “news to him” that he had been called to meet the French President and denied that he meant the US would have access to the vaccine first.
He said: “It was never a choice between the US and Europe.
“If our COVID-19 vaccine were to succeed, Sanofi would draw on its global manufacturing capacity as the third-biggest vaccine maker in the world.”
Mr Hudson added: “I’ve been campaigning for European readiness to defeat COVID-19 for months.
“We need to get vaccines to everybody across the world. We’re all going to have to play a huge part in that because if we add all the manufacturers in the world together, there still perhaps won’t be enough.”
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France’s State Secretary for Economy and Finance, Agnès Pannier-Runacher, told Sud Radio: “For us, it would be unacceptable if there were privileged access from this or that country under a pretext that would be a monetary pretext.”
Sanofi’s jabs turned out to be less effective than anticipated, though, delaying its possible rollout until the end of 2021.
The company recently started helping its competitors BioNTech and Pfizer produce their vaccine amid a shortfall in production capacity.
The news that a French start-up received an order from the UK for 40 million doses of its vaccine at the end of January – with London to now be given priority access to the jabs over Paris and the rest of the EU, did not spark the same level of fury from the Elysée Palace.
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The vaccine is expected to be in the UK by June this year but may not be available in France until 2022.
President and Chief Business Officer of biotech company Valneva, Franck Grimaud, estimated that the first vaccines will be delivered to the UK as soon as medical trials are complete, which he believes will be as early as June 2021.
However, vaccines are only likely to be available to the EU around the beginning of 2022, even though the company is based in Saint-Herblain, Pays de la Loire, France.
The Council President of the Pays de la Loire region angrily blamed Mr Macron for a missed opportunity to provide the vaccine to local people.
President Christelle Morançais said in February: “It is vital that the state proves it has much more agility and reactivity when it comes to supporting and defending our companies at the forefront of fighting the virus.
“France has missed the chance of ‘its’ own Covid vaccine.”
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