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EU Hypocrisy Hits Dizzying New Heights As Fee’s Scandal-Tarnished President Pledges to Wage International Battle on Corruption


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Given EC President Ursula von der Leyen’s obvious allergy to fundamental transparency, she is the final individual in Brussels to be main the EU’s roll out of so-called “corruption sanctions”. 

On Wednesday (Sept.14), European Fee President Ursula von der Leyen gave her State of the European Union speech. Predictably sufficient, it was heavy on the warfare in Ukraine (which Ukraine and its allies, together with the EU, are handily and heroically profitable) and lightweight on the boomerang results of the EU’s ever-escalating sanctions towards Russia, which danger tipping the bloc’s financial system and plenty of of its industries over the sting. The speech additionally talked about the Fee’s plans for a European Sovereignty Fund, a European Essential Uncooked Supplies Act and a European Hydrogen Financial institution.

Von der Leyen prolonged an invite to affix the EU not solely to Ukraine but in addition to Georgia, the 2 international locations whose potential NATO membership has represented an enormous, fats pink line for Moscow since a minimum of 2008, in addition to Moldova and the western Balkans. Towards the top of her speech, she set her sights on corruption. And that is the place issues acquired actually fascinating. The EU, she stated, must sort out corruption head on overseas, by making use of so-called corruption sanctions. However that’s not sufficient, stated vdL. It additionally must eradicate corruption at residence (presumably that means in all places within the EU besides Brussels), which it intends to start doing by suspending billions of euros of EU funds earmarked for Hungary, Russia’s closest EU ally, over corruption allegations:

If we wish to be credible after we ask candidate international locations to strengthen their democracies, we should additionally eradicate corruption at residence.

That’s the reason within the coming yr the Fee will current measures to replace our legislative framework for combating corruption.

We are going to increase requirements on offences similar to illicit enrichment, trafficking in affect and abuse of energy, past the extra basic offences similar to bribery.

And we may also suggest to incorporate corruption in our human rights sanction regime, our new device to guard our values overseas.

Corruption erodes belief in our establishments. So we should battle again with the complete drive of the legislation.

The EU is not going to be the primary Western energy to challenge its “values” overseas on this manner. It can, as virtually all the time, be following the US’ lead. In its International Magnitsky Act of 2016 Washington granted itself powers to sanction international authorities officers worldwide who’re deemed to be human rights offenders or concerned in vital corruption. Offenders can have their property frozen or discover themselves barred from getting into the U.S (NC’s in-house authorized skilled Jerri-Lynn wrote a piece about it on the time). Three years later, the UK authorities handed its personal Magnitsky modification to its Sanctions and Cash-Laundering Invoice.

Good Timing

However what makes von der Leyen’s declaration of complete warfare on corruption notably noteworthy is that it got here simply two days after the EU’s court docket of auditors launched a report flagging up vdL’s personal repeated violations of fundamental guidelines and procedures in her opaque dealings with Pfizer BioNTech. As Politico famous on Monday, the EU’s negotiations with Pfizer are trying much less and fewer like regular enterprise and an increasing number of like a Whodunnit:

For all the opposite vaccine offers struck by the EU between 2020 and 2021, a joint crew comprising officers from the Fee and 7 member international locations carried out exploratory talks. The result was then taken to a Vaccine Steering Board made up of representatives from all 27 EU member states who signed off on it.

However this established process was not adopted within the case of the EU’s largest contract, the Courtroom of Auditors says. As an alternative, von der Leyen herself carried out preliminary negotiations for the contract in March, and introduced the outcomes to the steering board in April. In the meantime, a deliberate assembly of scientific advisers, organized to debate the EU’s vaccine technique for 2022, by no means came about, the court docket writes.

Not like with the opposite contract negotiations, the Fee refused to supply information of the discussions with Pfizer, both within the type of minutes, names of consultants consulted, agreed phrases, or different proof. “We requested the Fee to supply us with info on the preliminary negotiations for this settlement,” the report’s authors write. “Nevertheless, none was forthcoming.”

Even by the Fee’s regular requirements, this complete lack of transparency or accountability is very uncommon, a senior auditor who helped lead the investigation and who requested anonymity advised Politico: “This comes up virtually by no means. It’s not a state of affairs that we on the court docket usually face.”

As I beforehand reported (right here and right here), vdL is already in sizzling water on account of her refusal to reveal the content material of her textual content messages with senior Pfizer executives, together with the corporate’s CEO Albert Bourla. None of these communications have been made public. When the EU’s ombudsman Emily O’Reilly acquired concerned within the matter in late 2021, urging the Fee to conduct a extra thorough seek for the textual content messages in query, the Fee performed for time earlier than lastly declaring that it can’t and doesn’t want to seek out the textual content messages.

“On account of their short-lived and ephemeral nature,” textual content messages “typically don’t comprise necessary info referring to insurance policies, actions and selections of the Fee,” wrote European Vice Commissioner for Values and Transparency Vera Jourová.

“The Largest COVID-19 Vaccine Contract”

As I famous in a earlier piece, textual content messages could also be ephemeral — particularly in case you delete them as shortly as doable — however the outcomes of them aren’t. Within the case of the Fee’s negotiations with Pfizer BioNTech influence each EU citizen, for the straightforward motive that it’s they who’re selecting up the invoice. On account of von der Leyen’s furtive communications with Pfizer, the Fee secured its third — and by far, largest — contract with Pfizer BioNTech, for 1.8 billion doses of the vaccine. Because the European Courtroom of Auditors notes, it was “the largest COVID-19 vaccine contract signed by the Fee and can dominate the EU’s vaccine portfolio till the top of 2023”.

After Pfizer’s negotiations with vdL, the value of its vaccine shot up from €15.50 to €19.50 — all paid for with public funds. In complete, the contract is price as much as €35 billion, which even for Pfizer is a princely sum.

VdL’s European Fee, working along with the governments of EU Member States, has completed every part it may well to get these pictures into as many arms as doable. It created the world’s first region-wide COVID-19 certificates, which many EU member governments then used to make life a residing hell for hundreds of thousands of vaccine-reluctant residents. A few of these governments have since revoked necessary vaccine certification, for the straightforward motive that it has little or no influence on transmission of the virus.

But the Fee has prolonged the validity of its certificates till the top of June 2023. That was after 385,191 EU residents responded overwhelmingly negatively to the concept in an EC-commissioned survey. In different phrases, the Fee requested what EU residents considered its plan after which fully ignored what they needed to say.

Which brings us again to the current. Three days in the past, the EU approved Pfizer BioNTech’s biavalent vaccine with BA.4 and BA.5 spike proteins, regardless of the very fact it has not but been examined for security or efficacy on a single human being. It’s as but unclear to what lengths EU Member States will go to get this new vaccine into folks’s arms. With vaccine stockpiles rising so excessive that some governments, notably in Japanese Europe, have been asking for a discount within the quantities being ordered, the stress to shift the inventory is already mounting.

In the meantime, VdL’s dodgy conduct has been known as out by each the EU’s Courtroom of Auditors and the EU’s Ombusdman Emily O’Reilly, who described the Fee’s refusal to reveal the texts between vdL and Pfizer as “maladministration”. VdL’s conduct is all of the extra galling given VdL’s personal assertion in her Political Tips that if “Europeans are to think about our Union, its establishments needs to be open and past reproach on ethics, transparency and integrity.”

“Impressively Freed from Morals”

Von der Leyen was additionally known as out this week by German MEP and political satirist Martin Sonneborn for the EU’s confounding resolution to exchange gasoline offered by Russia, “a rustic waging a brutal warfare of aggression” towards Ukraine, with gasoline offered by Azerbaijan, a rustic that’s “waging a brutal warfare of aggression” towards Armenia and which is “far behind Russia by way of democracy, press and civil liberties” (h/t Guurst). Right here is the cash quote from Sonneborn’s blistering speech:

“If you began your service right here, I assumed you had been simply incompetent and a bit felony; I now know you’re additionally impressively freed from morals.”

Right here is the complete speech, which is effectively price 90 seconds of your time:

This isn’t the primary time VdL has been caught deleting delicate messages and paperwork. In December 2019, lower than a month into her new job on the helm of the EU’s government department, it was revealed {that a} cell phone she had used as German defence minister had been cleaned of all information. That information was believed to incorporate info pertaining to contracts awarded by her protection ministry to exterior consultants, together with Mckinsey & Co, with out the correct oversight.

Given von der Leyen’s obvious allergy to fundamental procedural transparency, she is the final individual in Brussels to be main Europe’s battle towards corruption, each inside and past EU borders. Certainly, it’s extremely debatable whether or not the Fee itself is in any place to evangelise to the world about corruption given the breakneck pace of its revolving doorways and the extent to which it stays in thrall to lobbies and enterprise associations. Maybe it ought to get its personal home so as earlier than launching a worldwide warfare on corruption.

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