Statement by President von der Leyen at the joint press conference with President Michel and Prime Minister Costa following the informal meeting of EU Leaders and the EU-India leaders' meeting

Met dank overgenomen van Europese Commissie (EC) i, gepubliceerd op zaterdag 8 mei 2021.

Thank you so much.

First of all, I also want to thank you, António, for being such an outstanding host and very intensive, highly interesting two days, indeed starting with the Social Summit. As we had a long press conference yesterday, I want to focus on the two other topics today: COVID-19 and of course the EU-India Summit.

What COVID-19 is concerned, I updated Leaders on the good progress we have with our vaccination campaign. We have now delivered over 200 million doses to the European people. So we are on track to achieve our objective of enough doses being delivered in July to vaccinate 70% of the European adult population.

Of course, delivering vaccine doses is good, but vaccination is even better. So the numbers here are: Close to 160 million Europeans now have already received a first shot of the vaccine. That is over 25% of the EU population. This is good news and we will continue like this.

A topic that was important is of course that everybody is thinking about the summer season. And I understand how important that is. It is important for people to plan ahead their holidays. It is so important for workers in tourism, hospitality, or in the transport sector who hope to be once again in employment; and for businesses, of course, in those sectors which are expecting to start their recovery. To achieve this, vaccination is indeed the key parameter.

But we must also enable travel within and to the European Union. So I updated yesterday the Leaders on the progress in this area. I am glad to report that the legal and the technical work on the EU travel certificate, the vaccination certificate, is on track for the system to be operational in June. There are two different approaches that are important there - one is the political front. Here, thanks to the excellent job done by the Portuguese Presidency in the Council, as well as the Parliament's speed in reaching a position, we can realistically aim to have a political agreement by the end of this month. And this would allow for the system to be rolled out and people to carry with them unfalsifiable proof that they have been vaccinated, or they have a negative mutually recognised test, or they have overcome COVID-19 and have thus antibodies.

There was another point I could report on yesterday. Because of course, this is one track now to overcome the pandemic here - through the vaccination campaign - but of course we must not let our guard down and we must prepare for the future. And therefore, I was glad that I could announce that we now concluded the negotiations with BioNTech-Pfizer for a new contract - a new contract looking forward to the years 2022 and 2023. The new contract secures 1.8 billion doses of vaccines, mainly because there are three more topics that are clear for us, we have to cover with potential vaccines.

The first topic is: Sooner or later children and teenagers will be vaccinated. For that, we have to prepare. Second, there is the question of how long does the immunity last with the first two shots of vaccination. So when is it necessary, after a certain amount of time, to give a boost for the vaccination for the whole European population again? And of course, the big and important topic of escape variants or sometimes they are being called ‘variants of concern'.

And these three topics are for us important to be covered, to be prepared for. Therefore, now this big follow-up contract with BioNTech-Pfizer. But of course, we will also explore other contracts - for example based on other technologies like the protein-based technologies. The key point is to keep our options open. And we have seen how crucial it is for us to have a broad portfolio of vaccines to be prepared for unexpected issues.

Finally, of course we have discussed the role of the European Union in the global vaccination effort. And when it comes to the proposal of a temporary TRIPS waiver for vaccine intellectual property rights: As I have said before, I think it is very important. We should be open to this discussion. We should also, for example, have a close look at the role of licensing. These are important topics to discuss. But we should be aware of the fact that these are topics for the long term. It is not a topic for the short term or the medium term. And we should therefore not lose sight of the main urgencies now, which is ramping up indeed the vaccine production as quickly as possible, and ensuring that vaccines are fairly and evenly distributed.

So there are three topics that should be tackled with a discussion about the TRIPS waiver or licensing. And this is first of all export. The European Union is the pharmacy of the world and open to the world. Up to today, in the European Union, 400 million doses of vaccines have been produced. And 50% of them - 200 million doses - have been exported to 90 different countries in the world. So we invite others to do the same. This is the best way right now, in the short term, to approach the bottlenecks and the lack of vaccines worldwide.

The second point, indeed, is that we have to support COVAX. We have massively financed COVAX, as well as sharing our vaccines, both via COVAX and bilaterally with our neighbourhood. Some Member States have already shared - like Romania, France and Austria - but also committed to do so - like Spain, like Portugal, like Sweden, and I know that Poland is going to follow.

And the third topic is indeed the investment in global manufacturing. We have invested a lot with the Advance Purchase Agreements in the scaling up of the manufacturing right now, as we see it. But there needs to be more investment in global manufacturing capacity. For example, the Commission, in partnership with Germany, is already helping to develop local pharmaceutical manufacturing capacity in the Southern part of Africa. And we are also supporting the development of the Institut Pasteur in Dakar, in Senegal, together with the European Investment Bank, France, Germany and Belgium. So these are just examples of how to approach the topic.

And last but not least, the European Commission is working on a flagship Team Europe initiative with our African partners to very concretely build up capacity in Africa. This topic was also - and this is the bridge - the topic of course that has been discussed with Prime Minister Modi. Indeed, it was for us a very important historical moment.

First of all, to make sure that the European Union stands firmly at the side of India in this most challenging time. And we assured the Prime Minister of our solidarity and the support with all what is needed at the moment being from oxygen generators to medicines and ventilators. 17 EU Member States have supported worth over EUR 100 million of supply that has been brought to India and is being brought in the next days through the EU Civil Protection Mechanism. And further assistance will follow.

It was a remarkable Summit because it widened the scope and the view on the untapped potential in the relationship of the European Union and India. And I really want to thank you, António that you seized your Presidency to organise this Summit. This is outstanding, this is historical and it was impressive to see around the table of the 27 to have this extraordinary Summit. It is a landmark moment.

And indeed, we have agreed that we will resume the negotiations on a free trade agreement. If you just keep in mind that free trade agreement negotiations started in 2007, have been stopped in 2013 and nothing happened in between. And now, they are being resumed. It shows the importance of this Summit. We will also launch negotiations on investment protection and negotiations on the important topic of Geographical Indications. There were other discussions on other topics like cooperation on the World Trade Organization reform, regulatory cooperation, and resilient value chains.

We also discussed the topic of climate change. India is the fourth biggest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world. And it is impressive to see how India is stepping forward now in this topic, too. We discussed the importance of committing to climate neutrality and complete phase out from fossil fuels, for example, in view of the crucial UN COP26, so to have a very ambitious goal. Because the experience with India in the past showed that once India has set itself a goal, it delivers. India is delivering on the goal it has set itself. So it is important that ambitious goals are being taken for the COP26.

And last but not least: our partnership on connectivity. It is the second only of such a connectivity partnership, after Japan. It will bring our two regions closer in mobility and transport, but of course also in the digital field. India is a powerhouse of digitisation.

So this shows the width. And these were only a few examples of the corporation with India.

Thanks again to António Costa for having convened this Summit.