EU witch-hunt: France threatens to punish AstraZeneca for sending life-saving jabs to UK

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Europe minister Clement Beaune suggested the Anglo-Swedish drugmaker could face “penalties and sanctions” if European-made doses of the Oxford jab were shipped to the UK. He said: “These are serious accusations, so it is not done lightly. I am not saying that there is a problem but if there is a problem and that we have favoured other destinations, other countries – for example, the UK over us – then we will defend our interests.

“Our contracts need to be respected. Respecting contracts are not moral commitments, they are legal commitments. Penalties or sanctions can be triggered in every contract.”

The EU and AstraZeneca have been locked in a row after the firm announced it would slash the number of Covid vaccines shipped to the bloc.

Their feud escalated into a full-blown diplomatic crisis when the European Commission’s plans for an export ban on vaccines to outside the bloc threatened to impose a hard border on the island of Ireland.

Commission President Ursula von der Leyen was forced to rip up her plans and return to the drawing board after the move provoked fury in Dublin, Belfast and London.

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AstraZeneca has since sent a peace offering of nine million extra jabs to the bloc.

It will now send 40 million doses of the Oxford-produced Covid vaccine to member states by the end of March – up from a previous offer of 31 million jabs.

The concession, however, leaves European capitals with a shortfall of around 40 million doses after they were expected to receive 80 million vaccines from AstraZeneca in that time period.

But some in Brussels have claimed the firm had used EU funds and doses produced in the bloc to fulfil Britain’s order of Oxford jabs.

Mr Beaune suggested the EU could start withholding payments from vaccine makers if they fail to deliver in the future.

He added: “I don’t want suspicion or conspiracy, but we need clarity and transparency.

“At the moment, there is an investigation that is in the process of being finalised to see precisely what was delivered in Europe and to the UK from factories that produce in Europe.

“If there has been a preference granted to the British, then that’s a problem.”

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On Friday, the Commission announced plans to allow the ban on vaccine makers sending their jabs abroad.

Eurocrats demanded detailed information on where and when doses of coronavirus jabs have been exported by European producers.

Firms will now also have to seek authorisation before shipping their doses outside of the bloc.

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The draconian measures have the support of France, Poland and Germany.

German health minister Jens Spahn said: “This is not a matter of ‘Europe first’, but of Europe’s fair share.”

Belgium, where the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is made, has put off plans to introduce national powers that could ban the export of jabs from its country.

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