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People or Profits: how will the European Parliament vote on vaccine equity?

On June 9, the European Parliament will have the chance to vote in favor of using a tool that will allow us all to end this pandemic by ensuring equitable access to much needed medical countermeasures. It is about a resolution on meeting the global COVID-19 challenge and effects of waiver of the WTO TRIPS agreement, which, if adopted with progressive wording, will send an important message to those negotiating on behalf of the European Union at the World Trade Organization. So far, the European Union, together with the UK, Norway and Switzerland, has been blocking the progress of the negotiations by opposing the swift adoption of such an important and needed solution.

Last October, India and South Africa submitted a proposal to waive certain elements of the World Trade Organization Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS) Agreement to counter COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, both countries have sought international support for their proposal that aims to reduce restrictions on access to life-saving measures against COVID-19 that are the result of a global framework for the protection of intellectual property rights, mistakenly described as a major catalyst for biomedical innovation, and designed by and for the pharmaceutical industry.

In May, the United States issued a statement in which they expressed their support for the TRIPS waiver. The statement provoked a series of reactions from many high-level officials from European governments, including Germany, Spain, Italy, Ireland, Sweden and the Netherlands. All positive, some somewhat toned, but expressing readiness to continue discussions at the intergovernmental level. Eventually, these have been revisited and at the last EU Council meeting, Member States have “instructed” the European Commission to position itself against the waiver.

The EU has been delaying the progress at WTO arguing that IP was not an obstacle, while after receiving a revised proposal by South Africa and India, 62 countries decided to become co-sponsors.

Instead of supporting this essential move, the Commission proposed an old way of dealing with this unprecedented crisis by limiting export restrictions, supporting the expansion of production and boosting “facilitation” of current compulsory licensing provisions in the TRIPS Agreement. A high-level advisor from the World Health Organisation said that the EU’s focus is on voluntary and compulsory licensing, which are existing tools that have not served us so far. This proposal clearly does not go far enough.

The voting by the European Parliament is expected to take place on Wednesday and while any final decision is to be made at WTO, a call from the Parliament could be a powerful sign for the Commission and Member States to move in the right direction and to save lives globally. 

The latest motions for resolution tabled by the political groups can be found here.

Read more: Seven Reasons the EU is Wrong to Oppose the TRIPS Waiver