4th Oct 2023

EU leaders face Covid-mutations dilemma at summit

  • European Council president Charles Michel at a previous online only summit (Photo: European Union)

EU leaders will look at how to adapt to new Covid-19 variants - as Poland and France plan new restrictions due to new mutations spreading.

On Thursday (25 February), EU heads of government will also discuss - via a videoconference - Covid-19 certificates, travel restrictions, and how to speed up the vaccine roll-out.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

Leaders are expected to say that the EU urgently needs to accelerate the authorisation, production, and distribution of vaccines.

The authorisation of Johnson & Johnson company's Covid-19 vaccine could come mid-March, an EU official said.

"Pressure on the companies [to deliver] is high," said the official, adding that it is a priority that companies that the EU had already signed contracts with stick to their delivery commitments.

"Vaccination and vaccine production is an extremely difficult process, changing a line of the supply chain is complicated, you need a new process, a new material, approve it, make it work," the official added.

The prime ministers of Belgium, Denmark, Lithuania, Poland, and Spain have written to European Council president Charles Michel, who will head the EU leaders' meeting, to urge the boosting of vaccine-production capacities in Europe.

New factories?

"We need to provide the right support to Europe-based producers in case unexpected problems emerge during the production process. Existing production facilities will need to be adapted. New ones will need to be built," they said, arguing that vaccine production should be a strategic issue for the EU.

"We need to make things happen," the PMs warned.

As vaccination figures slowly tick up in EU countries, attention is shifting to adapting vaccines to the new variants of Covid-19.

The EU Commission last week launched a programme to work with researchers, biotech companies, manufacturers, and public authorities in the EU and globally to detect and fight new variants, and develop new adapted vaccines, seed up approval, and production.

"The commission preparing for new vaccines depending on the variants, to be produced by end of the year," said an EU diplomat, adding that it might turn into a flu-like vaccination drive that happens annually.

In light of the new variants, EU leaders will also discuss border restrictions, that have put fresh pressure on the passport-free Schengen zone, and sparked concern over intra-EU trade.

On Wednesday, Poland said it will announce tougher coronavirus restrictions, especially in some regions hit particularly hard by the UK variant of Covid-19.

A third wave, likely caused by the new variants, has also created a surge in infections in Slovakia and Hungary.

France also plans new local restrictions to deal with a worsening Covid-19 situation as it seeks to avoid a new national lockdown.

"We are in an even more difficult context with the arrival of variants," acknowledged an EU diplomat, adding that EU governments often turn to border restrictions as a reflex, and "most convenient" solution.

EU leaders took the decision in January to try to limit the spread of new mutations, with restrictions to non-essential travel.

However, there has been a lack of communication and coordination among member states, creating congestion at some borders.

The commission has written to six member states to warn them that their travel restrictions went "too far."

EU leaders will seek to find a balance between limiting the spread of the mutants and keep the bloc's single market going.

On Friday (26 February), EU leaders will discuss defence and security issues with Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg and discuss the bloc's southern neighbourhood with EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell.

EU defends all vaccines, amid lower AstraZeneca take-up

The European Commission said that bloc's strict regulatory process for the evaluation and approval of vaccines is crucial to persuade citizens to get the jab, calling on member states to fight vaccine hesitancy with information.

EU Commission casts doubt on Russian Sputnik vaccine

Hungary is buying up vaccines from Russia and China. But tricky regulatory oversight questions remain as the European Commission sheds doubt on the quality and safety of Sputnik production.

Covid variants put Schengen under pressure

The EU Commission also raised concerns about the proportionality of Belgium's ban on non-essential travel, for people wishing to leave the country.


Slovak's 'illiberal' Fico victory boosts Orbán, but faces checks

Fico has the potential to shift Slovakia from the West and jeopardise the EU unity in its stance against Russia's Ukraine war. His victory could also have a domino effect in central Europe and empower of other far-right, populist movements.


Why EU Commission dumped Google's favourite consultant

This should be a wake-up call to ensure consultancy firms with a vested interest are permanently excluded from public tenders. The close relationship between the EU's competition authority and economic consultants poses a serious risk to its independence.

Latest News

  1. EU demands 'full clarity' from Warsaw on visa-scandal
  2. EU reveals 10 'critical tech' in bid to de-risk from China
  3. EU Commission at a loss over latest snub from Tunisia
  4. Northern Europe — the new Nato/Russia frontline
  5. The EU-Kenya free trade deal shows a waning 'Brussels effect'
  6. Hoekstra pledges to phase-out fossil fuel subsidies
  7. 10 years on from the Lampedusa shipwreck — what's changed?
  8. EU ministers go to Kyiv to downplay fears on US, Slovak aid

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region is stepping up its efforts to reduce food waste
  2. International Medical Devices Regulators Forum (IMDRF)Join regulators, industry & healthcare experts at the 24th IMDRF session, September 25-26, Berlin. Register by 20 Sept to join in person or online.
  3. UNOPSUNOPS begins works under EU-funded project to repair schools in Ukraine
  4. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsGeorgia effectively prevents sanctions evasion against Russia – confirm EU, UK, USA
  5. International Medical Devices Regulators Forum (IMDRF)Join regulators & industry experts at the 24th IMDRF session- Berlin September 25-26. Register early for discounted hotel rates
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersGlobal interest in the new Nordic Nutrition Recommendations – here are the speakers for the launch

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of Ministers20 June: Launch of the new Nordic Nutrition Recommendations
  2. International Sustainable Finance CentreJoin CEE Sustainable Finance Summit, 15 – 19 May 2023, high-level event for finance & business
  3. ICLEISeven actionable measures to make food procurement in Europe more sustainable
  4. World BankWorld Bank Report Highlights Role of Human Development for a Successful Green Transition in Europe
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic summit to step up the fight against food loss and waste
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersThink-tank: Strengthen co-operation around tech giants’ influence in the Nordics

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us