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Von der Leyen blames Hogan’s successor as trade chief for vaccine export fiasco


European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. Photo: Reuters

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. Photo: Reuters

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. Photo: Reuters

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen sought to deflect the blame for a humiliating U-turn over vaccine export controls, saying that one of her deputies had been responsible for the controversial regulation.

The commission sparked outrage in Ire land and the UK on Friday when it released plans for controls on shipments of vaccines from the EU into Northern Ireland, undermining its own commitment during Brexit talks to keeping the Irish border open. The plan was abruptly dropped hours later.

“What I can tell you is that  there is one cabinet which was lead on this , that is Executive Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis because he is in charge of trade,” the commission’s chief spokesman Eric Mamer told reporters in Brussels yesterday. “This regulation falls under the responsibility of Mr Dombrovskis and his cabinet and of course the services of the commission which respond to him.”

Ms Von der Leyen has come under heavy fire over the hasty adoption of measures that oblige drug companies to obtain authorisation before they can send shots manufactured in the EU to other countries and officials have been speculating on who might be made the scapegoat.

The initial plan included an option for the EU to invoke an emergency clause in the Brexit deal that could introduce restrictions between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, a prospect that was met with dismay in Dublin.

Shortly after the announcement of the mechanism, Ms von der Leyen performed a late-night U-turn to strip out that part of the plan. It was the latest in a series of communication and policy setbacks for her as she struggles to fix the slow and at times chaotic roll-out of the EU’s vaccination programme .

Mr Dombrovskis, a former Latvian prime minister, took over the powerful EU trade portfolio following the resignation of Irish Commissioner Phil Hogan in the wake of the ‘Golfgate' controversy last summer.

Mr Dombrovskis himself had publicly stated there was no plan for curbs on vaccine exports just two days before the Commission released its proposals. The trade chief was then wheeled out to present the new regulations on Friday, before several elements, including its decision-making clauses, were properly fully firmed up.

When asked to respond to Mr Mamer’s comments, Mr Dombrovskis made it clear that the EU’s trade services acted “at the request of – and with inputs from – relevant Cabinets and services at the Commission to address those public health considerations”.

“This transparency and authorisation mechanism for vaccines was created in response to the public health emergency in the EU, to provide greater transparency over vaccine supplies,” he said.

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