23rd Sep 2023

Von der Leyen's pharma texts should be public, MEP says

  • It is still unclear whether the messages between European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and the Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla have been deleted (Photo: EC - Audiovisual Service)
Listen to article

Text messages between European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and the CEO of giant pharmaceutical company Pfizer should be made available to the public, MEPs and NGOs said on Tuesday (18 January).

The demand came after the EU commissioner for transparency and values, Věra Jourová, said that text messages do not fall under the scope of EU transparency rules on access to documents.

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

"Due to their short-lived and ephemeral nature, text and instant messages are not meant to contain important information relating to policies, activities and decisions of the commission," Jourová said in a written answer to liberal Dutch MEP Sophia in 't Veld.

"They therefore neither qualify as a document subject to the commission record-keeping policy nor are they falling within the scope of regulation on access to documents," she added.

The EU's access to documents law has increasingly become a hot topic in Brussels, mainly because the 2001 rulebook is considered outdated yet previous attempts to update it have gone nowhere.

In November, the German magazine Der Spiegel reported that the EU Commission does not archive WhatsApp messages. It added that thousands of texts messages are deleted each month.

But the New York Times had earlier revealed that von der Leyen and Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla had been exchanging texts and calls for months to seal a deal for 1.8 billion doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine.

The lack of transparency surrounding these communications has triggered anger and outrage among MEPs and civil society organisations who criticised the EU executive for using tricks to avoid accountability.

"The European Commission has concluded multibillion-euro contracts with Pfizer…We have the right to know what the commission president discussed with the Pfizer CEO," said MEP Kathleen Van Brempt from the Socialists & Democrats group.

She argued that the text messages between von der Leyen and Bourla "belong to the public domain".

Liberal MEP Martin Hojsik used Twitter to ask what would be the word count limit that determines whether a message falls under the scope of transparency rules.

For her part, Alice Stollmeyer, executive director of NGO Defend Democracy, pointed out that the EU executive should lead by example when it comes to bringing transparency to policy-making.

"Transparency is a key condition for accountability, which is critical for a healthy democracy," she tweeted.

In September, the EU ombudsman Emily O'Reilly opened an inquiry over the refusal to grant journalists access to text messages between the EU commission and the CEO of Pfizer, and is currently assessing the next steps.

The EU watchdog previously called on EU institutions to update access to documents rules to include modern forms of communication like instant messaging.

But - so far - the EU Commission has refused to publicly clarify whether the messages have been deleted.

Von der Leyen faced similar scrutiny in late 2019 when text messages were deleted from the official mobile phones she was using during her previous role as Germany's defence minister.

MEPs reject greater transparency in hidden vote

The European Parliament's constitutional affairs committee have curtailed efforts to make MEPs more accountable and transparent, by rejecting amendments in a report on lobbying. How each voted on the amendments was also kept in the dark.


Where is the transparency in the EU €2 trillion recovery?

A lack of transparency and unwillingness to engage stakeholders, with first the EU pandemic recovery plans and now with the cohesion funds, threatens to imperil a bounceback instead of steering the Green Deal.

More transparency on EU media owners planned for 2022

The commission vice-president Vera Jourova highlighted Hungary, Poland, Slovenia and France - where developments in the media market have caused concern, and admitted the "state of the media in EU is not good".

EU transparency on lobbyist meetings still piecemeal

Small steps are being made to reveal who is lobbying who within the EU. But the approach is basically haphazard and piecemeal - meaning the public remains largely in the dark and unable to truly scrutinise the influencers.

MEPs sue EU commission for Covid contract transparency

Five European lawmakers from the Greens lodged a lawsuit against the European Commission for not fully disclosing its Covid vaccine contracts with the pharmaceutical industry. The commission says it is in "the business of respecting contracts."

Von der Leyen slammed for not revealing Pfizer CEO texts

The European ombudsman has criticised the European Commission for its handling of a request for public access of text messages that were exchanged between president Ursula von der Leyen and Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla.


Orbán's 'revenge law' is an Orwellian crackdown on education

On Tuesday, the Hungarian parliament passed a troubling piece of legislation known by its critics as the 'revenge law', which aims to punish and intimidate teachers who dare to defy Viktor Orbán's regime. This law is a brutally oppressive tool.

Latest News

  1. Europe's energy strategy: A tale of competing priorities
  2. Why Greek state workers are protesting new labour law
  3. Gloves off, as Polish ruling party fights for power
  4. Here's the headline of every op-ed imploring something to stop
  5. Report: Tax richest 0.5%, raise €213bn for EU coffers
  6. EU aid for Africa risks violating spending rules, Oxfam says
  7. Activists push €40bn fossil subsidies into Dutch-election spotlight
  8. Europe must Trump-proof its Ukraine arms supplies

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. 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.
  2. UNOPSUNOPS begins works under EU-funded project to repair schools in Ukraine
  3. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsGeorgia effectively prevents sanctions evasion against Russia – confirm EU, UK, USA
  4. 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
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersGlobal interest in the new Nordic Nutrition Recommendations – here are the speakers for the launch
  6. Nordic Council of Ministers20 June: Launch of the new Nordic Nutrition Recommendations

Stakeholders' Highlights

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

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us