Europe's week: Vaccine passports, Brexit, Sofagate and AstraZenecaComments
It was a busy week in Brussels with politicians trying to do their bit to save theirs and our summer.
MEPs voted on Tuesdayon what they think an EU vaccine passport should look like. The so-called Digital Green Certificate would provide proof of a vaccine against COVID-19, recovery from the illness or a negative test result.
But they also want the test to be free for all citizens across the continent.
Spanish socialist MEP, Juan Fernando López Aguilar said whatever is decided, it should end ‘the current chaotic situation" of "unilateral and discriminatory measures".
Next week, López Aguilar has the unenviable task of trying to reach a compromise with the 27 EU member states in negotiations with the European Council over what a vaccine passport will eventually look like.
The aim is to reach a deal before the end of June.
One MEP who won’t be around to find out is Ioannis Lagos. The Greek far-right member was arrested in Brussels on Tuesday after the European Parliament overwhelmingly voted to lift his immunity.
Last October, he was convicted and sentenced to 13 years behind bars by a Greek court for his position within the outlawed Golden Dawn party - since declared a criminal organisation.
A Belgian court will now have to rule on Greece’s request to extradite Lagos, a process that could take months.
Sofagate saga continues
For the first time since the much-discussed Sofagate incident occurred in Ankara, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen publicly addressed MEPs about it on Monday.
And she didn't bite her tongue.
"I cannot find any justification for what happened in the European treaties, so I have to conclude that it happened because I am a woman...I felt hurt and I felt alone as a woman and as a European.
This intervention, which showed a more human side of the German politician rarely seen before, got tongues wagging in media outlets from Vogue to the Spectator.
Even German Green MEP Anna Cavazzini was impressed.
"It was a very emotional speech, something that would never have happened 10 years ago. We all felt like being in von der Leyen’s shoes," Cavazzini said.
Europe waves goodbye to Brexit
MEPs also had their final vote on the divorce deal between the EU and the UK, somewhat unsurprisingly choosing to ratify the agreement nearly four months after the Brexit deal came into effect.
The vote concluded the years-long Brexit process and opens a new era where close collaboration between Brussels and London is expected to coexist with constant wrangling and disagreements.
The deal, which had already been ratified by the UK, conditionally came into force on December 31, 2020, but was still technically been open to debate by MEPs.
Von der Leyen said she "warmly welcomed" the decision and Council President, Charles Michel, echoed her words, saying: "It marks a major step forward in EU-UK relations and opens a new era."
Brussels launches legal action against AstraZeneca
But as one book ended on a long-standing relationship with the EU, another opened up.
After days of speculation, the Commission finally announced on Monday that it had launched legal action against AstraZeneca over alleged breach of contract concerning delivery of its coronavirus vaccine.
"The European Commission has started last Friday legal action against the company AstraZeneca on the basis of breach of the advanced purchase agreement," said a spokesperson from the European Commission.
AstraZeneca had committed to supplying 180 million doses to the EU in the second quarter of this year but has faced multiple delays to shipments.
The vaccine was a key part of the bloc's vaccination plan due to its price and ease of use compared to rival shots from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna and has been endorsed for use in over 50 countries.
EU officials have accused the pharmaceutical giant of failing to deliver on its commitment.
"The company has not been in the position to come up with a reliable strategy to ensure the timely delivery of doses. What matters to us, in this case, is that we want to make sure that there's a speedy delivery of a sufficient number of doses that European citizens are entitled to and which have been promised on the basis of the contract," said European Commission spokesman Stefan De Keersmaecker.
The Anglo-Swedish company denied any wrongdoing, however, saying: "AstraZeneca has fully complied with the Advance Purchase Agreement with the European Commission and will strongly defend itself in court. We believe any litigation is without merit and we welcome this opportunity to resolve this dispute as soon as possible."