Prime Minister Janez Janša today attended a working meeting in Vienna with Austrian Federal Chancellor Sebastian Kurz to discuss the distribution of vaccines among EU member states. In addition to the Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša, the working meeting was attended by Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, Bulgarian Prime Minister Bojko Borisov, Latvian Prime Minister Arturs Krišjanis Karinš (by video-link) and the Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković (by video-link).
The leaders’ discussions focused on equal access to and supply of vaccines against COVID-19, which they also outlined in a letter to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and President of the European Council Charles Michel. In the letter, the leaders also called upon the European Council President to discuss the equal supply of vaccines to all EU member states with all EU leaders as soon as possible.
The meeting was followed by a press conference with Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša, Austrian Federal Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš and Bulgarian Prime Minister Bojko Borisov.
Prime Minister Janša thanked the Austrian Chancellor for organising today’s meeting and for the initiative, “which I understand as a timely warning before the European Union arrives at a situation where, for example, in one half of the countries, 30% of the population would be vaccinated against COVID-19 and in the other half 60%. This would lead to a completely unnecessary political crisis at a time when the EU will have to deal with the exit strategy and how to mitigate and correct the consequences of the epidemic in all member states,” the Prime Minister stated.
He pointed out that “a corrective mechanism is necessary to return the distribution of vaccines to the starting point, that is the decision taken by the European Council to distribute vaccines pro rata or according to the population of individual EU member states. No technical agreement, steering committee or technical procedure can alter a decision made in the interest of everyone in the European Union,” the Prime Minister pointed out.
He continued that Slovenia is currently above the European average in terms of vaccination coverage, “but if the mechanism does not work, this could change quickly. We are aware that we are not an island and that no EU member state will be able to live normally, even if it achieves a higher level of protection against COVID-19, if countries in the neighbourhood do not achieve this protection, because the virus does not respect borders and a return to life as we knew it before the pandemic will not be possible,” the Prime Minister said.
“The problem we discussed today has become very evident, primarily due to delays in the supply of AstraZeneca vaccines. Many countries have ordered large quantities of this vaccine because it was identified as the most promising in the second half of last year and would be approved first. However, the distribution and supply of this vaccine has not been in line with the forecasts and the contract, and from this perspective, we have asked ourselves how good these contracts have been,” said the Prime Minister, adding a personal appeal to the European Commission – all member states that are a part of the Commission – to make public the content of the contracts. “I don’t think that there is anything that needs to be kept secret, and it is in everyone’s interest that the contracts are made public. If there is anything wrong with those contracts which could be the reason for the delay in distributing the vaccine, let it be corrected,” urged Prime Minister Janša, warning that this must be done in a timely manner. “I still believe that the decision to go into joint procurement of vaccines was a good one,” he said, adding that we have the European Union “to deal with situations in which we are stronger together than if we acted individually, but the principles and agreements must be respected.”
The Prime Minister concluded his address by saying that Slovenia would take over the presidency of the EU Council in the second half of the year and that we were preparing to build the European Union’s recovery from the pandemic in a more optimistic atmosphere. Prime Minister Janša reiterated that with today’s talks and appeal, we wish to avoid a new potential political crisis, “which will certainly arise if in June if we arrive at a situation where half of the EU member states have a level of vaccination that will stop the epidemic but the other half will not achieve this. We welcome all the efforts of the President of the European Commission and the President of the European Council to rectify this situation and believe that our warning is timely,” added Prime Minister Janša.
Austrian Chancellor Kurz pointed out that a corrective mechanism would need to be adopted so that all member states could emerge from the pandemic at the same time. “Vaccination can still be a success for the EU, but it is important that we close the gap in Europe,” the Austrian Chancellor said, adding that it was problematic because some countries were far ahead with vaccination and others lagging, “which may be a particular problem.”
The Bulgarian and Czech Prime Ministers also highlighted the solidarity and conclusions adopted by the leaders at the European Council in December and ratified in January that the vaccines would be distributed according to the key share of the population, with the Bulgarian Prime Minister stressing that unequal vaccine distribution should cease.
The Slovenian Prime Minister also answered questions from journalists, pointing out that the prime ministers had met today because there are challenges that individual countries can manage better on their own and those that can be better managed together. “When it comes to a pandemic, it means that the disease is active all over the world, and it would be best to tackle it together, but the world is not yet sufficiently organised to make this possible. It is right that the European Union is seeking common solutions through joint orders for vaccines, but there have been errors in implementation, and these errors need to be corrected,” the Prime Minister said. When asked how the correction mechanism can work without creating new tensions, the answer, according to the Prime Minister, is the additional 14 million doses of the vaccine already provided by the European Commission, “and this is a step in the right direction.”
He also said that, through joint efforts, the European Union could provide additional supplies of at least 50–60 million doses by the end of June, “and these quantities could offset the principle of sharing so that at the end of June, all Europeans can expect the epidemic to be successfully halted and a normal summer will be ahead of us.”
“There are countries such as Israel that are doing better and will undoubtedly provide vaccinations sooner, but there is only one Israel. Israel has also been properly organised, just in time, and the real question for EU member states is whether an individual country could, if it were to pursue its own path, be more successful. The answer is yes, but in the same sum as the EU, we would certainly be less successful at the end of this path. We will work on estimates and balances when the epidemic is defeated,” the Prime Minister added, concluding that the problem pointed out by the leaders today, which was first pointed out by the Austria Chancellor, could be solved without major concrete consequences. “If we were only aware of it in two months, it could escalate into a not insignificant political crisis in Europe,” Prime Minister Janša is convinced.