AstraZeneca must 'honour' contract before exporting doses elsewhere, European Union warns

EU warns will block Astrazeneca until delivery is made as new Covid-19 wave surges

European Council president Charles Michel declared: "By standing together, shoulder-to-shoulder, the EU and U.S. can show that democracies are best suited to protect citizens, promote dignity, and generate prosperity".

The EU retains the right to use export controls as a means to "leverage" vaccine firms to fulfil their Covid-19 supply contracts, the Taoiseach has said.

Rutte, at his own news conference, noted that Bulgaria, Latvia and Croatia were among European Union countries that genuinely need help obtaining more vaccines, but he pointedly did not describe any special need for Austria.

A key summit topic is the European anger over UK-based pharma giant AstraZeneca failing to meet vaccine delivery promises while ensuring smooth supplies to former EU member Britain.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte disagreed, and warned that there could be "broader consequences" if a stricter approach to vaccine exports is implemented.

De Croo said it was important that restrictions are imposed only on producers "not respecting what we agreed on" and that such bans serve as a measure of "last resort".

French President Emmanuel Macron spoke up in favor of export control mechanisms put in place by the European Commission.

"We didn't shoot for the stars.That should be a lesson for all of us", he said in an interview with Greek television channel ERT on Wednesday.

He added that the European Union, unlike other countries, had exported a big part of its production instead of keeping it for itself. "That would shake the internal market to its core".

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But on Thursday tensions flared again as von der Leyen noted she was unaware of the United Kingdom exporting any doses and was looking forward to London demonstrating "transparency".

During the virtual summit, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen presented new data showing that EU-based vaccine manufacturers had shipped some 77 million doses internationally since December 1, in addition to delivering 88 million doses within the EU's 27 countries.

However, on Wednesday, both sides issued a joint statement speaking of the need to cooperate, given their inter-dependencies in vaccine production, to achieve a "win-win" outcome.

The cross-Channel rivals are in discussions about how "to create a win-win situation and expand vaccine supply for all our citizens" but have yet to come to agreement on how to share AstraZeneca doses.

The focus of the latest row is AstraZeneca's plant in the Netherlands, operated by Halix, which Prime Minister Boris Johnson's government claims as part of the British vaccine supply chain.

"Still, extreme trade disputes between the European Union and China are rather unlikely because China is now the largest trade partner for the European Union accounting for 16 percent of its total trade", it went on to say, continuing, "The disputes are harmful to both sides and are likely to lead to a stronger US dollar vis-à-vis euro and yuan". That, combined with the lack of vaccines available in Europe, has pushed several European Union nations to impose strict lockdown measures over the Easter holidays.

European Union leaders will also be discussing diplomatic and economic relations with its strategic neighbour Turkey.

Against this backdrop, Biden's appearance offers a positive note, with European officials delighted with the new United States administration's warmer tone.

The two-day digital summit comes as Europe struggles with a new surge of the virus.

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