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EU ombudsman accuses Commission of 'maladministration' for hiding von der Leyen texts to Pfizer CEO

THE EU ombudsman said today that the European Commission’s failure to disclose text messages between its president Ursula von der Leyen and Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla amounted to “maladministration.”

Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly told the Commission to “do a more extensive search for the relevant messages,” saying it did not appear to have clearly asked Ms von der Leyen for the messages, which are believed to relate to vaccine procurement for the bloc and to date from April last year.

The commission has ignored requests from journalists for sight of the exchanges. Ms O’Reilly said this “falls short of reasonable expectations of transparency. 

“When it comes to the right of public access to EU documents, it is the content of the document that matters and not the device or form. If text messages concern EU policies and decisions, they should be treated as EU documents.”

The coronavirus crisis has shed a light on the lack of transparency surrounding the negotiations for vaccines between the EU and big pharmaceutical groups.

The EU Commission was mandated by member countries to organise the joint procurement of vaccines during the coronavirus crisis and led negotiations with manufacturers.

The EU has so far refused to say how much it paid for the billions of doses it secured, arguing that contracts are protected for confidentiality reasons.

Ms von der Leyen has faced trouble in the past over awarding contracts without proper oversight, being subject to a German parliamentary probe in 2019 over the allocation of lucrative contracts to external consultants while she was German defence minister. 

She is not the only top EU official with a scandal-ridden past, as current foreign policy chief Josep Borrell had to resign as head of the European University Institute (EUI) in 2012 after it emerged he was being paid €300,000 (£250,000) a year as a board member of energy company Abengoa, a conflict of interest as the EUI advised governments on energy policy. 

When an MEP, he was criticised for a lack of transparency over his assets in pharmaceutical giant Bayer and energy firm Iberdrola, which Green MEP Diana Riba said could prejudice his actions as an EU diplomat, and for his involvement “in serious scandals such as insider trading and conflicts of interest.”

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