Spanish automaker SEAT’s parent company Volkswagen wants a firm commitment from Brussels to support a potential project to manufacture electric cars in Spain, the German group’s chief executive officer Herbert Diess said on Friday.
The Spanish government announced on Thursday it will use European Union funds to create a public-private consortium with SEAT and power company Iberdrola that would build the country’s first factory for electric-car batteries.
SEAT said last year it was considering producing a small electric vehicle in Spain from 2025, but tied it to receiving public aid as carmakers ramp up production of electric vehicles to meet tougher emissions regulations.
Diess told an event at SEAT’s plant in Martorell near Barcelona, which was attended by Spanish King Felipe and Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, that the potential project would include battery production and receive EU’s pandemic recovery funds, but stressed more backing was needed.
“We hope for the willingness of the European Commission to let this flagship project of historic importance for Spain and Europe become reality,” Diess said.
“The successful transformation of the Spanish auto industry will hinge upon a clear commitment by the European Commission,” he added, without elaborating.
As Europe’s second largest car manufacturer, Spain has the potential to become an electric mobility hub, he said. SEAT-branded electric cars are currently manufactured in Germany and Slovakia.
SEAT Chairman Wayne Griffiths said his company was seeking a broad alliance with Iberdrola, phone operator Telefonica and Caixabank, as well as other Spanish companies, to meet its electric mobility goal.
At SEAT’s plant, King Felipe said Spain’s strategy to develop electric vehicles was “irreversible” and that authorities will give their total support to the automotive sector, that accounts for 8% of the economy.
Greece and Austria are urging other EU states to adopt a common Covid vaccination certificate, which could help revive Europe’s stricken tourist industry this summer.
In a virtual meeting EU leaders are also discussing how to speed up vaccinations. The EU’s slow vaccine rollout has been widely criticised.
Greece and Israel already have digital vaccination certificates.
But France and Germany are wary, as the data on infectiousness is incomplete
There are also concerns that enabling a vaccinated minority to enjoy foreign travel while others continue to face restrictions would be seen by many as discriminatory.
A further complication is the rapid spread of more contagious Covid variants – the English, South African and Brazilian forms. So it is more likely that people will need booster jabs to remain protected.
Greek Deputy Prime Minister Akis Skertsos told the BBC that a common digital certificate “is not discriminatory at all”. He argued that non-vaccinated tourists could also visit Greece this summer, but the procedure for them would be slower – they would have to be tested and might have to self-isolate on arrival.
Greece and Cyprus have agreed to admit Covid-negative Israeli tourists this summer – those who can prove their status with the Israeli “green” digital certificate.
Greek Tourism Minister Harry Theocharis said a similar deal could be reached with the UK. However, the UK government has not yet approved any vaccination certificate, nor has it given the go-ahead for foreign holidays.
Greek tourism slumped disastrously last year because of the pandemic. Its revenues fell to €4bn (£3.5bn; $5bn), from €18bn in 2019, Reuters news agency reports. Tourism makes up about a fifth of the Greek economy, employing one in five workers.
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz tweeted that “we’re advocating a digital Green Pass, like Israel’s”.
“That should allow you to prove, on your mobile phone, that you’ve been tested, inoculated or have recovered [from Covid]. Our goal: to avoid a lengthy lockdown and finally enable freedom to travel again in the EU, and freedom to enjoy events and cuisine.”
As some EU countries now struggle with a third wave of the virus there are tensions over unilateral border restrictions. Germany is the latest to have received a complaint from the European Commission, since it imposed new police checks on the Czech and Austrian borders.
The Commission – the EU executive – has been under fire over its vaccine procurement strategy. It got into a row with AstraZeneca, because the Anglo-Swedish drug firm fell far short of the first-quarter delivery target.
The Commission still aims to get at least 70% of adults vaccinated in the bloc by mid-September. But so far, the total vaccinated is below 5%.
The EU is desperately seeking ways to increase vaccine supplies and improve its ability to track new variants, BBC Europe correspondent Kevin Connolly reports. But it is pursuing policies that might pay off in months or years, when voters want answers in days or weeks, he says.
(Reuters) – Plans by Britain and the European Union to set up a new financial cooperation forum by the end of March have made some progress but this will not automatically lead to market access, senior officials said on Tuesday.
Britain’s trade deal with the EU that came into effect when it left the single market on Dec. 31 does not cover financial services, leaving the City of London largely adrift from its biggest export market. Trading in euro denominated shares and swaps has already left London for the EU and New York.
A forum for financial regulators from Britain and the EU to exchange views would help to improve relations. There is already a forum set up for EU and U.S. market watchdogs.
“We are in the process of exchanging texts and looking at that, and in due course we will come to a resolution,” John Glen, Britain’s financial services minister, told an insurance conference on Tuesday.
Separately, Mairead McGuinness, the EU’s financial services commissioner, said “informal engagements” regarding a memorandum of understanding on regulatory cooperation were now taking place.
“Once we agree on our working arrangements, we can turn our attention to resuming our unilateral equivalence assessments,” McGuinness, speaking at an online event at the European Parliament, said.
Glen said the EU’s equivalence assessments would not be part of the MoU. “That is a process we can’t control,” he said.
The EU can grant direct market access for foreign financial services companies if it deems their home market rules to be equivalent or aligned closely enough to the bloc’s own regulations.
The EU has only granted two temporary equivalence decisions for clearing and settling trades for Britain.
“We consider our interests and will only take equivalence decisions that are in the EU’s interests. There cannot be equivalence and wide divergence,” McGuinness said.
(Reuters) – Uber on Monday called on EU regulators to recognise the value of independent contracts in job creation as they consider new rules to protect gig economy workers.
The company has been criticised for classifying its drivers as independent contractors rather than employees entitled to rights, such as a minimum wage, paid holidays and rest breaks.
Uber has a mixed record in defending its business model. It scored a victory in California in November last year when voters passed a proposition allowing it to treat its drivers as contractors. One of its biggest tests so far will be on Feb. 19 when the UK Supreme Court will rule on workers’ rights.
Uber’s comments in a white paper to the European Commission precede a consultation on Feb. 24 when the EU executive will seek feedback from workers and employers’ representatives on gig workers’ rights before drafting laws on the subject by year-end.
“This standard (for platform work) needs to recognise the value of independent work, and be grounded in principles drivers and couriers say are most important to them,” Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said in a blog post.
He said workers should have flexibility and control over when and where they want to work and that any changes should apply to the sector and not just one company.
“We believe a new approach is possible – one where having access to protections and benefits doesn’t come at the cost of flexibility and of job creation,” Khosrowshahi said.
The Commission said it will first seek feedback on whether a law is needed to improve the working conditions of gig workers, followed by a second consultation on the content of the law.
“As part of the social partners’ consultation, the European Commission is considering issues, such as precarious working conditions, transparency and predictability of contractual arrangements, health and safety challenges and adequate access to social protection,” a spokeswoman said.
(Reuters) – The European Union should set binding targets for one million public charging points for electric vehicles by 2024, and three million by 2029, to give consumers the confidence to switch to the new technology, the region’s car lobby said on Thursday.
In a joint letter with consumer and sustainable transport groups, the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (ACEA) told Brussels that firm targets would also help carmakers and power grid operators plan ahead.
“The EU Commission quickly needs to take action and set binding targets for the ramp-up of charging infrastructure in the member states,” said ACEA president Oliver Zipse, who is also chief executive of German carmaker BMW.
“Otherwise, even the current reduction targets in fighting climate change are at risk,” he said.
Electric vehicle (EV) sales have recently gained momentum as those of combustion engine cars fell during lockdowns in the coronavirus crisis.
Carmakers are launching new EV models to meet tougher EU emissions rules and several governments have introduced EV subsidies as part of pandemic recovery programmes.
However, the rollout of public charging stations, to complement workplace and home charging, has been slow and there are multiple tariffs and payment methods.
Industry figures show the EU had 224,538 public charging points in 2020.
The letter, also signed by consumer lobby BEUC and the Transport & Environment (T&E) caucus, urged the Commission to create common standards.
It should also set a target for around 1,000 hydrogen stations by 2029, the letter said.
The German government on Wednesday agreed a draft law to aim for 1,000 fast charging stations alongside motorways by the end of 2023. It expects to spend 2 billion euros ($2.4 billion).
EU antitrust enforcers have claimed a court made legal errors when it scrapped their order for iPhone maker Apple to pay 13 billion euros ($15.7 billion) in Irish back taxes, in a filing to have the verdict overturned.
The stakes are high for the European Commission in its crackdown against what it sees as aggressive tax planning by multinationals.
It has a mixed record to date, winning court backing in its case against Fiat Chrysler but losing in the Starbucks and Belgian tax break cases.
The Commission is appealing to the Luxembourg-based Court of Justice of the European Union following a ruling last year by the General Court, which said the EU executive had not met the requisite legal standard to show Apple had enjoyed an unfair advantage.
In its 2016 finding the Commission said two Irish tax rulings had artificially reduced Apple’s tax burden for over two decades, which in 2014 was as low as 0.005%.
“The General Court’s failure to properly consider the structure and content of the decision and the explanations in the Commission’s written submissions on the functions performed by the head offices and the Irish branches is a breach of procedure,” the Commission said in a filing in the Official Journal,
The EU competition enforcer added: “The General Court’s subsequent acknowledgement… that the decision examines the functions performed by the Irish branches in justifying the attribution of the Apple IP licences to them constitutes contradictory reasoning, which amounts to a failure to state reasons.”
Apple has said the General Court judgment proved it has always complied with Irish laws, with the issue more about where it should pay taxes rather than the amount.
The CJEU will hold a hearing on the case in the coming months. The case is C-465/20 P Commission v Ireland and Others.
The news comes with the EU in a very public dispute with drug-maker AstraZeneca over supplies, and under growing pressure over the slow pace of vaccine distribution.
Earlier on Friday the Commission made public a confidential contract with AstraZeneca, the UK-Swedish company behind the Oxford vaccine, to bolster its argument that the firm has been failing to fulfil its promises to deliver to the bloc.
Under the new rule, vaccine firms will have to seek permission before supplying doses beyond the EU. Its 27 member states will be able to vet those export applications.
Vaccines produced by Pfizer in Belgium are currently being exported to the UK, and the EU insists that some of the AstraZeneca vaccine produced in England is destined under contract for EU citizens.
The EU is also in a supply dispute with Pfizer, which is set to fall short of the contracted vaccine volume for the EU by the end of March. Pfizer says the reason for that is the urgent expansion of its facility in Puurs, Belgium.
AstraZeneca’s shortfall to the EU is expected to be about 60% in the first quarter of 2021.
As the export controls were announced, the EU medicines regulator, the EMA, gave authorisation for the AstraZeneca vaccine to be used in over-18s.
Who is exempt from the export controls?
The EU is allowing some 92 exemptions from the export control regime, including: vaccine donations to Covax, the global scheme to help poorer countries; and exports to Switzerland, countries in the western Balkans, Norway and North Africa. Other Mediterranean countries such as Lebanon and Israel are also exempt.
Explaining the export measures, EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides told a news conference they would ensure that all EU citizens had access to vaccines, and that all parties played by the rules.
“This approach is built on trust, transparency and responsibility,” she said.
“Commitments need to be kept, and agreements are binding. Advance purchase agreements need to be respected.
“Today, we have developed a system which will allow us to know whether vaccines are being exported from the EU. This increased transparency will also come with a responsibility for the EU to authorise, with our member states, these vaccine exports.”
The European Commission has published a redacted version of its contract with drug-maker AstraZeneca for its Covid vaccine, amid a row over supplies.
The move came hours after Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen increased pressure on the company over its decision to reduce supplies to the EU.
The contract signed in August contained “binding orders”, she told German radio, and called for an explanation.
The vaccine is expected to be approved by the EU medicines regulator later.
UK-Swedish AstraZeneca is blaming production delays at two plants.
The August deal was for 300 million doses for the European Union to be delivered after regulatory approval, with an option for 100 million more.
But EU sources say they now expect to get only about a quarter of the 100 million vaccines they were expecting to receive by March, a shortfall of about 75 million jabs.
AstraZeneca says the production problems are at its plants in the Netherlands and Belgium.
The EU decided to publish the contract, with the agreement of AstraZeneca, to try to back its argument that the company is reneging on its commitments.
Many parts of the published contract have been redacted – blanked out – to protect sensitive information.
The company’s chief executive, Pascal Soriot, earlier this week highlighted a clause in the contract stipulating that the company would make its “best effort” to meet EU demand, without compelling the company to stick to a specific timetable – an assertion disputed by the EU.
Announcing the publication of the contract, the Commission said it welcomed AstraZeneca’s “commitment towards more transparency in its participation in the rollout of the EU Vaccines Strategy”.
The EU is under pressure after criticism that the pace of vaccine distribution in several member countries has been too slow.
Supplies of another vaccine, produced by Pfizer-BioNTech, have also dropped due to production issues.
Warning of a ‘vaccine war’
“There are binding orders and the contract is crystal clear,” Mrs von der Leyen said in Friday morning’s radio interview.
“‘Best effort’ was valid while it was still unclear whether they could develop a vaccine. That time is behind us. The vaccine is there.
“AstraZeneca has also explicitly assured us in this contract that no other obligations would prevent the contract from being fulfilled,” she said.
AstraZeneca is producing the jab at its UK plants too and there have been no reported problems with its contract with the UK authorities.
EU officials say AstraZeneca has been asked to send some doses manufactured in the UK to the continent to make up the shortfall, but the company said on Wednesday that its contract for UK supplies prevented this.
UK Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove said on Wednesday that UK supplies “won’t be interrupted”.
But Mrs von der Leyen insisted the EU’s contract with AstraZeneca listed two UK plants as production sites for vaccine destined for the EU.
Calling for the document to be published, she said: “We are speaking with the company about which parts need to be redacted. But we want to achieve transparency.”
The EU is likely to unveil special powers later to help ensure its supply of vaccines, including a possible limit on the export of vaccines produced in the bloc.
There is speculation that these powers could also see companies being forced to hand over production to other firms inside the EU and share intellectual property.
However, the European Council is stressing the need for negotiations in order to reach a solution before enforcement becomes necessary.
Meanwhile, EU Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders has warned of a “vaccine war”.
Speaking on Belgian radio, he said: “The EU commission has pushed to co-ordinate the vaccines contracts on behalf of the 27 precisely to avoid a vaccines war between EU countries, but maybe the UK wants to start a vaccine war?
“Solidarity is an important principle of the EU. With Brexit, it’s clear that the UK doesn’t want to show solidarity with anyone.”
Vaccine approval awaited
The European Medicines Agency is expected to grant approval to the AstraZeneca vaccine later, with an announcement due at 14:00 GMT.
The regulator’s decision is keenly awaited, in part to see whether or not it will approve the jab for use in over-65s.
Germany’s vaccine commission decided against doing so on Tuesday, saying there was not enough data from that age group.
AstraZeneca and the UK regulators, the MHRA, have said they are confident the jab provides protection in all age groups.
Supplies run low in Europe
Vaccinations in parts of Europe are already being held up and in some cases halted because of a cut in deliveries of the Pfizer-Biontech vaccine:
In Spain, Madrid and the northern Cantabria region have halted first vaccinations to focus on second doses for at least two weeks.
Regional health authorities in France are delaying vaccination appointments. More than 1.1 million people have received a jab so far
Vienna’s city councillor for health says delivery problems are leading to delays in vaccinations by up to two weeks. “We are really operating in a dramatic form of shortage economy,” said Peter Hacker
The Dutch government was the last in the EU to start a vaccination programme and by the end of January the Netherlands will have had no more than 757,000 doses, mainly from Pfizer. It initially based its strategy on the assumption the AstraZeneca vaccine would be available first
The head of Croatia’s public health institute says Pfizer has reduced the number of doses for the next three shipments and all the doses in Croatia are now being kept for second shots
Germany is likely to face a shortage of coronavirus vaccines until at least April, the country’s health minister has warned.
“We will still have at least 10 tough weeks with a shortage,” Jens Spahn wrote on Twitter.
The pace of Germany’s rollout has been criticised, and it has failed to meet its own daily target of vaccinations.
Mr Spahn’s comments come amid a row between the EU and the vaccine maker AstraZeneca over supply shortages.
The UK-based company has said production issues at its Europe-based plants means it will be unable to deliver the promised number of doses to the 27-member bloc.
But the EU said the firm must honour its commitments and deliver the jabs by diverting stock from the UK.
On Thursday, Mr Spahn called for a vaccination summit involving pharmaceutical companies, manufacturers and politicians to explore how the rollout could be accelerated.
“Then we will see… where we can support the industry,” he said. “We are going through at least 10 tough weeks. We should spend that by working together.”
PAEU and vaccines
448m EU population
8.4m People received vaccine so far (1.9%)
2.3bn Doses ordered overall
400m Doses ordered from AstraZeneca (Not yet EMA approved) – 17% of total
Sources: EU/Our World in Data
Earlier this week, Mr Spahn backed the EU’s proposal to create a register of vaccine exports in order to monitor where doses are being sent.
He also said the falling number of cases in Germany was encouraging and suggested schools could reopen once the current lockdown ends on 14 February.
Meanwhile, the country is preparing to bar travellers from the UK, Brazil and South Africa over concerns over new variants. “We are co-ordinating towards the aim of refusing inbound travel from mutation areas,” Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said.
What’s happening with the rollout elsewhere?
The pace of the EU’s vaccination programme has been criticised in recent weeks, with a number of countries failing to hit their own targets. Officials have blamed a combination of logistical and supply issues.
In Spain, authorities in the capital Madrid have suspended all first doses of the vaccination for at least two weeks because of the ongoing shortages.
A number of other regions, including Catalonia in the north-east, are having similar problems with stock. Catalan officials believe their 30,000 remaining doses will run out this week.
Many countries are facing similar shortages due to delays in shipments of both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, which are the only ones currently approved for use in the EU.
There was added confusion in the Czech Republic on Wednesday, after the health ministry called for a two-week halt to new vaccinations due to supply issues only for their statement to be denied by the prime minister.
“This [health ministry statement] was unnecessary,” Prime Minister Andrej Babis said. “The vaccination centres need to deal with this themselves.”
Elsewhere, Portugal is recording a high number of new infections and reports suggest hospitals in Lisbon are struggling to cope with the influx of patients.
A record 293 deaths were recorded in the country on Wednesday, and doctors from the German army have been deployed to Lisbon to help manage the spike.
Cases have also increased in parts of France and President Emmanuel Macron is reportedly mulling a stricter lockdown.
What’s behind the supply problems?
The EU signed a deal with AstraZeneca in August for 300 million doses, with an option for 100 million more, but the UK-Swedish company has reported production delays at plants in the Netherlands and Belgium.
The EU had hoped that as soon as approval was given – probably on Friday – delivery would start straight away, with some 80 million doses arriving in the 27 nations by March. But the production issues have dented this hope.
Reports said last week the EU would get 60% fewer vaccine doses – about 50 million jabs – than promised in the first quarter of the year.
The bloc is also facing delays with supplies of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, and it has a much bigger deal with the US-German vaccine maker.
Both the EU and AstraZeneca have vowed to work together to resolve the problems, and crisis talks were held on Wednesday.
A second coronavirus vaccine manufacturer has warned of supply issues to the European Union, compounding frustration in the bloc.
AstraZeneca said a production problem meant the number of initial doses available would be lower than expected.
The fresh blow comes after some nations’ inoculation programmes were slowed due to a cut in deliveries of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
The EU Health Commissioner expressed “deep dissatisfaction” at the news.
Officials have not confirmed publicly how big the shortfall will be, but an unnamed EU official told Reuters news agency that deliveries would be reduced to 31m – a cut of 60% – in the first quarter of this year.
The drug firm had been set to deliver about 80 million doses to the 27 nations by March, according to the official who spoke to Reuters.
The AstraZeneca vaccine, developed with Oxford University, has not yet been approved by the EU’s drug regulator but is expected to get the green light at the end of this month, paving the way for jabs to be given.
Some regions, including Germany’s most populous state North-Rhine Westphalia and parts of Italy, said earlier this week that they were suspending giving first jabs of the two-dose vaccine because of the shortages.
Italy and Poland have threatened to take legal action in response to the reduction in vaccine supply.
Meanwhile Hungary’s government, which has complained over the time it is taking EU regulators to approve the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, has reached a deal with Russia to buy up large quantities of its Sputnik V vaccine, even though it has not received EU approval.
European Council President Charles Michel, who led a call of EU leaders this week, said Thursday that officials were considering all ideas to try and stop future vaccine delays.
“All possible means will be examined to ensure rapid supply, including early distribution to avoid delays,” he said.
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and Mr Michel both say they are still aiming for the target of 70% of the EU population being vaccinated by summer.
Borders to remain open
The total number of German Covid deaths climbed above 50,000 on Friday – a day after the country warned that it could close its borders if other EU countries were less strict in controlling the virus. Berlin sounded the alarm amid rising concern about new variants.
Ms von der Leyen said Thursday that more testing and “targeted measures” were needed throughout the EU in order to keep internal and external borders open.
For its part, France said it would impose tighter travel restrictions for European arrivals from Sunday, requiring a negative PCR Covid test within three days of travel.
In the Netherlands, a ban on all flights from the UK, South Africa and South American countries came into effect on Saturday to try and prevent new coronavirus variants gaining a foothold.
Looking forward to the future, officials from EU nations reliant on tourism – including Spain and Greece – have floated the possibility of using vaccination certificates to allow for cross-border travel but there has been scepticism within the bloc.