European Commission Plans Gas Sharing and Rationing Measures if Russian Supplies are Interrupted

The European Commission is planning to approve a gas sharing plan if Russian supplies are interrupted, according to a document leaked to the Spanish newspaper El Pais. Under the plan, EU member states will have to share gas sourced from other suppliers between themselves, as well as ration energy in a way that doesn’t favour those member states with alternative suppliers. The article has been translated into English by the German blog Blackout News.

Russia has already suspended supplies to Poland and Bulgaria because those countries refuse to pay in roubles. Other European countries face similar threats. El Pais reports that the EU will use the Security of Supply Regulation, in place since 2017, to guarantee the supply of gas to priority customers, such as private households and social institutions, in all EU member states. It is already feared that some European industries could face severe rationing in the event of significant shortages. Countries with supply problems would be able to enforce the solidarity clause and force their neighbours with alternative suppliers to share some of their gas with them.

Priority will be given to gas-powered electricity stations. Sources in the European Commission have stressed that: “States are asking us to come up with a co-ordinated plan to decide jointly and uniformly which industries are affected by possible rationing and to avoid creating a competition problem between them.”

Unjabbed Brits May be Banned from Travelling to EU Next Summer

Britons could be banned from travelling to the EU unless they are fully vaccinated against Covid under new rules being hammered out in Brussels today. MailOnline has more.

Under the plans, which would affect any tourist from outside the bloc, the ‘white list’ of approved countries would be scrapped in favour of making travel dependent on the vaccination status of the traveller.

Those fully jabbed with an EU-approved vaccine – which includes AstraZeneca and Pfizer – would be allowed to travel freely, provided their last dose was within the last nine months. Those with ‘expired’ jabs would need a booster shot.

Children, those who have recovered from the virus, people travelling for essential reasons and those jabbed with a WHO-approved vaccine would also be allowed but may require a pre-departure PCR test, Bloomberg reports.

The rules are likely to be phased in, and take full effect by March. The same rules would then be rolled out to EU citizens travelling within the bloc from next summer.

Detailed plans are set to be published later today, and it will then be up to each member state whether to implement them.

It comes as the continent tries to control a rising wave of Covid infections, with leaders targeting the unvaccinated for the harshest measures.

Worth reading in full.

U.K. Set to Join E.U.’s Covid Vaccine Passport Scheme – Would Make Launching Domestic Passport Scheme Quicker

The Government has applied to link the U.K. to the E.U.’s Covid vaccine passport scheme – “to make journeys easier”, according to officials. More significant is the fact that joining it would enable ministers to launch a domestic vaccine passport scheme more quickly. The Telegraph has the story.

The Telegraph has been told by the E.U. that integration of the U.K.’s vaccine database into the E.U. system is at an advanced stage.

“­­Significant progress was made on a technical front, namely when it comes to the connection to the gateway, with aim of going live [testing] soon,” said a spokesman for the European Commission.

The U.K. Foreign Office and Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) have joint responsibility for the project in the U.K. They formally applied to join the E.U. scheme on July 28th, and technical work has been carrying on behind the scenes ever since. 

“We have applied to link into the E.U.’s Digital Covid Certificate scheme,” said a Foreign office spokesman. “Linking up to the E.U.’s Digital Covid Certificate scheme will enable us to digitally verify each other’s Covid certificates to make journeys easier.”

The E.U. Digital Covid Certificate has quickly become the biggest vaccine passport scheme in the world and covers more than 40 countries, including all 27 E.U. states and others as far afield as Israel and Panama.

The system is effectively a giant digital platform or “gateway” through which different countries’ vaccine certificates and test results can be scanned and verified as legitimate by others quickly and easily.

It is is used on all external EU borders and also for domestic vaccine passports schemes operating in countries including France, Holland and Portugal.

Worth reading in full.

Millions of Brits Excluded from New E.U. Vaccine Passport Scheme

The European Union’s new vaccine passport scheme – the “E.U. digital Covid Certificate” – has been launched following recent trials, and it’s not just the unvaccinated who don’t qualify. Up to five million vaccinated Brits, and many others across the world, could be denied European holidays because their vaccines are not recognised by the scheme. The Telegraph has the story.

Millions of vaccines administered here do not qualify for the European Union’s vaccine passport scheme, because the shots were manufactured in India and are not yet authorised by the European Medicines Agency (EMA).

The hitch could leave thousands of Britons turned away at E.U. border crossings when the batch numbers on their vaccines are checked digitally.

The E.U. Digital Covid Certificate… is designed to allow Covid-secure travel across the continent but does not recognise a version of the AstraZeneca vaccine called Covishield, produced by the Serum Institute of India (SII), because it is yet to receive approval in Europe.

Up to five million doses of this version of the vaccine have been administered in the U.K. and are identifiable by the vaccine batch numbers (4120Z001, 4120Z002, 4120Z003) included on recipients’ vaccine cards and in the Covid travel pass available via the NHS app.

The E.U. ruling has already sparked outrage in Asia and Africa, where the Indian manufactured shot – which forms the backbone of the Covax distribution scheme – has been widely used. Now, some British holidaymakers may find themselves similarly excluded.

The Telegraph has traced three Britons affected, none of whom were told in advance they were to receive the Indian version of the AstraZeneca vaccine. All received their shots of the SII vaccine in March. …

The E.U. Digital Covid Certificate allows those who are fully vaccinated, recently tested or recovered from Covid to move across borders within the E.U. without having to quarantine or undergo extra coronavirus tests upon arrival.

But only vaccines approved by the EMA are included, though individual member states are free to accept other vaccines if they choose.

The EMA approved vaccines are Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, and the version of the AstraZeneca vaccine manufactured in the U.K. or Europe, which is sold under the brand name Vaxzevria. …

The E.U. vaccine passport will soon integrate with the Covid travel pass on the NHS app. By scanning a QR code, the E.U. system pulls up information including the traveller’s name, date of birth and vaccine details, including batch numbers.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Professor Adam Finn from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation says this is merely an “administrative hurdle” that needs to be “straightened out”. He was quoted by Sky News in its coverage of the story:

We’re in the early days of this new world of needed vaccine passports and there are lots of aspects of this that are still being sorted out for the first time.

But it’s clearly, ultimately not in anyone’s interest, including the E.U., to create hurdles that don’t need to be there. …

I would anticipate that this will get straightened out in due course.

Worth reading in full.

E.U. Fails in Court Ruling to Secure 120 Million Doses of AstraZeneca Vaccine – But Bloc Still Claims Victory

The European Union has failed in a legal attempt to obtain 120 million doses of the AstraZeneca Covid vaccine by the end of this month. Despite this, the President of the European Commission has claimed victory for the bloc, saying that the ruling demonstrates the drug maker’s failure to meet its commitments. Sky News has the story.

The two sides have had a rocky relationship over the past few months, with the E.U. accusing the vaccine maker of not producing supplies fast enough.

AstraZeneca was contracted to do its best to deliver 300 million doses to the bloc by the end of June, but it had to revise down its target to 100 million doses due to production problems.

A Brussels court rejected an E.U. request for at least 120 million vaccine doses by the end of this month – something the company has claimed as a win.

Instead, the drug maker said the judge ruled it should deliver only 80.2 million doses by September 27th.

AstraZeneca said it would “substantially exceed” that amount by the end of this month and that the court backed its assertion that the European Commission “has no exclusivity or right of priority over all other contracting parties”.

However, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the ruling supported the E.U.’s view that AstraZeneca had failed to meet its commitments.

“It is good to see that an independent judge confirms this,” she said.

“This shows that our European vaccination campaign not only delivers for our citizens day by day. It also demonstrates that it was founded on a sound legal basis.” …

AstraZeneca has now been told by the court to deliver 15 million doses by July 26th, another 20 million by August 23rd, and a further 15 million by September 27th.

If the company misses these deadlines it will face a penalty of €10 (£8.57) per dose not delivered, the European Commission said.

Worth reading in full.

27% Of Adults in the E.U. Unlikely to Accept a Covid Vaccine, According to a New Survey

More than a quarter of adults in the E.U. are either “very unlikely” or “rather unlikely” to accept a Covid vaccine, according to the results of a new survey conducted by the E.U. agency Eurofound. Here are the key findings.

The stated intention to get vaccinated varies considerably among Member States, with an important east-west divide discernible across the Union. With the notable exception of Austria and France, the intention to get vaccinated is over 60% for all western Member States – with Nordic and Mediterranean countries, Denmark and Ireland having even higher rates – while among eastern Member States the rate is dramatically lower, ranging from 59% in Romania to 33% in Bulgaria.

The report notes that people in the prime age group (aged 35-49 years) are more sceptical about vaccines (29%) than younger and older age groups (26% and 27%, respectively). Unemployed people (39%), those with a long-term illness or disability (39%) and full-time homemakers (33%) are more vaccine hesitant than people in employment (26%) or people who are retired (23%). The least vaccine averse are students (13%).

According to the survey, fielded in February and March 2021, the main reason for vaccine hesitancy is a lack of trust in the safety of the vaccine. Almost half of those who are unlikely to accept a Covid vaccine believe that the risks associated with the virus are exaggerated. Eight per cent believe that Covid doesn’t exist at all.

Trust in the news media, pharmaceutical companies, national government and national healthcare system is lower among the hesitant than the non-hesitant. Use of social media as a primary source of news and information is identified by the survey’s authors as bearing a “strong association [with] vaccine hesitancy”, despite the fact that the non-hesitant report as being more trustworthy of social media (albeit only marginally).

The survey does not distinguish between different Covid vaccines, though it is likely that hesitancy rates are greater for the AstraZeneca vaccine because of fears over its relationship with blood clotting. In Denmark, where the AstraZeneca vaccine has been dropped from the national rollout, a recent survey found that far more Danes would decline to get an AZ Covid vaccine (33%) than would refuse to get a Covid jab altogether (7%).

The results from the Eurofound survey are worth reading in full.

Update on EU’s Vaccine Passport Scheme

We have an update today on yesterday’s vote in the European Parliament, which essentially waved through the Commission’s plans to roll out a vaccine passport scheme across the EU, which we covered yesterday. This is a guest post from a source within the EU.

In Brussels yesterday the European Parliament adopted a negotiating position on the Commission’s Digital Green Certificate proposal. 575 MEPs voted for a compromise text, with 80 against and 40 abstentions.

Voting took place remotely after three hours of speeches to a mostly empty chamber.

The Commission’s desire to create a universal system of health check points within the EU was apparent before the Plenary Session. During the debate it became increasingly clear that these checks will be taking place beyond Member State borders.

MEPs were resigned to passing the Regulation in order to “return to normal” even if it “puts Schengen at stake”.

Voter concerns that European society would be divided were occasionally relayed, usually as a prefix to a bald statement that the DGC would neither discriminate nor function as a pass for entry into Member States.

A handful of MEPs asked to examine the Proposal more critically.

With Parliament’s approval – and the three EU Institutions already in alignment – negotiations between Commission, Council and Parliament on the final text will be a mere formality.

We can expect the rubberstamp by June, ushering in a sophisticated and probably enduring system of health checks across Europe, enhanced by the draconian Passenger Locator Form, also on its way to becoming law.

The EU’s Vaccine Passport Scheme Could Destroy Peace in Northern Ireland

Today, the European Parliament will vote on the introduction of vaccine passports within the EU, known as Digital Green Certificates. Ciarán McCollum, a barrister and linguist from Northern Ireland who advises on matters of European law, has written a piece for Lockdown Sceptics expressing his concern that this scheme will destroy the fragile peace in Northern Ireland. Here’s an extract:

The proposed regulation will cost Europe dearly. There are the financial implications of a universal border control regime which involves the constant handling of that most sensitive of data types: medical records. There is the loss of ideals intrinsic to European democracy. But more pertinently for me, there is the situation in Northern Ireland.

The Explanatory Memorandum calls freedom of movement one of the EU’s “most cherished achievements” and a “driver of its economy”. It is also a driver of peace in my home. The Northern Irish remain citizens of Europe without the Union, and will not accept being checked upon entry into what about a million of them consider their home: the neighbouring Member State of Ireland. The prospect of violence is terrible.

Despite these risks and contrary to the recently introduced Better Regulation Rules, the DGC controls are being rushed through with nary a cost-benefit analysis, impact assessment or public consultation and with limited parliamentary debate. Why? Well, in the words of the Head of the Commision’s Covid Taskforce, Thierry Breton, when speaking to RTL in March, so that Europeans can once again “enter a public place” and “live without being a risk to each other”. Could Mr Breton really mean to suggest that there ever was, or ever can be, life without risk? Has the Parisian gentleman, when crossing his home city by car for example, ever encountered the 4-lane 12-exit roundabout at the Arc de Triomphe?

Worth reading in full.