EU civil war: Moderator forced to intervene as ministers turn on each other at summit

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EU foreign ministers met in Bratislava yesterday at the GlobSec Forum where they clashed over the bloc’s vaccine procurements. A moderator was forced to intervene in a furious row between Hungarian minister Péter Szijjártó and his Slovak counterpart Ivan Korčok.

The Hungarian government official lashed out against the EU for the sluggish vaccine rollout, accusing Brussels of approaching the vaccination campaign with an “ideological or geopolitical nature” attitude.

But the Slovak minister came to the defence of the EU Commission, blasting he was “sick and tired” of having to address the EU executive’s failures in the COVID pandemics.

He added: “Can we identify, as we sit here, something where the EU has prevented us from doing something?”

The Hungarian minister reacted by saying his country had been punished for using Russian and Chinese vaccines.

But Mr Korcok replied: “That was not a question of competence, that was a question of rules.”

The two countries are ironically also the only ones that approved Sputnik V in the bloc.

Slovakia recently joined Hungary, the first country to do so, in buying and authorising the Russian jab.

The decision, Mr Szijjártó claimed, was made with the help of the Hungarian government.

He said: “I helped, I’m proud of that.”

The row is not the first to erupt among member states since they decided to trust the Commission with procurements.

The EU is still trying to catch up with the UK, Israel and the US on the number of vaccine inoculations.

After a sluggish start to Brussels’ rollout, more than half of adults in the EU have now received at least one shot of a coronavirus vaccine.

But the bloc is in for yet another setback after vaccine maker Johnson & Johnson announced it was expected to miss its delivery target to the EU for the second quarter.

The setback comes after millions of doses of the single-shot jab were banned across Europe because of safety concerns.

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It could delay the bloc’s vaccination drive, but it is not expected to be a significant issue because member states mostly rely on the German-made Pfizer jab.

The European Medicines Agency last week said J&J shipped to Europe doses from a factory in the United States would not be used over fears of contamination.

They were found contaminated with materials used in the manufacture of AstraZeneca jabs, which also occurs at the plant.

An EU Commission spokesman said: “Following the non-release of these batches, the company is not expected to be in a position to deliver 55 million doses by the end of this quarter.”

The EU ordered 200 million doses from J&J, of which 55 million were to be delivered by the end of the month.

The company has so far delivered around 12 million shots, but only half have been administered, according to official EU figures.

Commission officials have refused to say how many doses they expect to be delivered by the American firm by the end of June.

The spokesman told reporters: “The member states and the Commission have voiced their strong concerns regarding this shortfall.”

He revealed that the EU would work with the company “towards the delivery of the agreed doses in this and following quarters”.

Despite the setback, the Commission said it expected to meet its target of fully vaccinating 70 percent of adults this summer.

In a statement, J&J said it “remains committed to supplying 200 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine to the European Union, Norway and Iceland and will continue to update the European Commission and member states in a timely manner as we refine delivery timelines”.

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