France has accused the UK of “blackmail” over its handling of coronavirus vaccine exports, amid continuing tensions over supply chains.
Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian was asked whether the EU had been “scammed” by sending millions of doses to the UK while its own rollout stuttered.
“We need to build a co-operative relationship,” he told France Info radio. “But we cannot deal this way.”
France has called for the EU to implement tougher export controls.
Vaccine rollouts have started sluggishly across the bloc, and the EU has blamed pharmaceutical companies – primarily AstraZeneca – for not delivering its promised doses. AstraZeneca has denied that it is failing to honour its contract.
The EU is expecting to receive about 30 million AstraZeneca doses by the end of March, less than a third of what it was hoping for.
The UK’s vaccination drive, meanwhile, has so far been more successful than that of the EU’s 27 member states.
On Thursday, following a virtual summit where EU leaders discussed vaccine supplies, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the bloc was the “region that exports most vaccines worldwide” and invited other countries to “match our openness”.
She also said AstraZeneca must “catch up” on its deliveries to the EU before exporting doses elsewhere.
What has France said?
On Friday, Mr Le Drian said the EU “shouldn’t be paying the price” for the UK’s vaccination policy.
He also criticised its approach to purchasing jabs, suggesting the UK was under pressure because it lacked enough doses to supply second shots.
“The United Kingdom has taken great pride in vaccinating well with the first dose except they have a problem with the second dose,” he said.
“One can’t play with blackmail,” he added. “You can’t be playing like this.”
The foreign minister did not specify what he considered to be blackmail, but earlier this week UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned that strict EU export controls could negatively hit investment in member states.
“I would just gently point out to anybody considering a blockade… that companies may look at such actions and draw conclusions about whether or not it is sensible to make future investments,” he said.
Mr Le Drian is not the only senior French figure to have called for tighter controls on doses sent from the EU.
President Emmanuel Macron told reporters on Thursday that the virtual summit marked “the end of naivety” from the bloc. “I support the fact that we must block all exports for as long as some drug companies don’t respect their commitments,” he said.
EU Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton, meanwhile, singled out AstraZeneca for criticism.
“AstraZeneca has been an issue,” he said. “I just remind you that we were expecting to have 120 million doses… and finally we got 30 million. So we had a problem with this company.”