An unwanted invitation could soon arrive in Ursula von der Leyen’s mailbox from the MEPs who lead the European Parliament’s Covid-19 committee, who have decided to ask the head of the European Commission to appear publicly before the committee, according to a press release sent exclusively to the Politico publication by its president, Belgian MEP Kathleen Van Brempt, writes News.ro.
The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der LeyenPhoto: Jacques Witt / Sipa Press / Profimedia Images
MPs want to ask von der Leyen about her role in negotiating a massive multibillion-euro coronavirus vaccine contract signed with Pfizer at the height of the pandemic.
In the run-up to this contract, she is said to have exchanged text messages with Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla.
“The European Union spent a lot of public resources in the production and purchase of vaccines during the pandemic. Parliament has the right to obtain full transparency on the modalities of these expenses and the preliminary negotiations that led to them,” said Van Brempt in the statement.
So far, the Commission president has avoided questions about what happened in those crucial months.
Neither the EU ombudsman nor the Court of Accounts have been able to shed light on the troubled transactions.
The European Public Prosecutor’s Office, which has legal powers that other watchdog agencies lack, has opened an investigation into the vaccine contracts, without saying whether the Commission president is being targeted.
The parliamentary committee for Covid-19 analyzed the agreement, the third and largest contract signed with Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech, and has so far heard the Court of Accounts and the ombudsman.
But Bourla refused the invitations, sending a subordinate in his place.
In accordance with Parliament’s rules, the invitation will be sent to Parliament Speaker Roberta Metsola, who will then decide whether to ask von der Leyen to attend the hearing.
Metsola is a member of the center-right group of the European People’s Party, the same one that placed the President of the Commission in her role.
The invitation, if made, will not have any legal force. Like Bourla, von der Leyen can refuse to appear. But with calls for greater transparency growing stronger as the Qatargate corruption scandal engulfs Brussels, she may feel she can’t say no.
Not only von der Leyen is in the attention of the European deputies.
Van Brempt said in his statement that the commission would also request the revocation of Pfizer’s access privileges to the European Parliament in response to Bourla’s refusal to be heard.
It’s happened in the past: Lawmakers voted to ban Monsanto lobbyists in 2017 after the company refused to appear at a hearing.
But the measure is not automatic, the decision should be approved through the Parliament’s internal processes. And individual MEPs can continue to sign up Pfizer lobbyists as private guests.
However, even token measures have their role as EU institutions seek to repair recent damage to their reputations.
“Transparency is essential to ensure the trust of our citizens in the European institutions”, explained Van Brempt.