Statement by President von der Leyen at the joint press conference with President Michel, following the EU Leaders' videoconference - EU monitor

EU monitor
Donderdag 28 januari 2021

Statement by President von der Leyen at the joint press conference with President Michel, following the EU Leaders' videoconference

Met dank overgenomen van Europese Commissie (EC) i, gepubliceerd op donderdag 19 november 2020.

Thank you very much.

So indeed, this VTC was mostly about COVID-19. And it has an enormous added value that we have a coordination to what our response to the COVID-19 pandemic is concerned, across the EU i. In this context, I could announce that we had the first meeting of the EU platform of national science advisors that took place last week. It was a very good meeting. And we have agreed that we will have every two weeks now this platform meeting of the national science and health advisors to the governments in order to have a benchmarking and to have an exchange of best practices and experience.

Another topic was the passenger locator form. Here, I can update that four weeks ago, we were tasked to develop a passenger locator form digitally. Now, we are launching the first pilot - in close cooperation with EASA. And the good news is that two Member States now have already signed up. They signed up to start the pilot, but we have another 12 Member States that are now technically ready to join, because they have already adopted a compatible digital passenger locator form. So our goal is that we will be ready with the passenger locator form until the end of the year.

The tests, of course, were a big topic. As you know, yesterday, the Commission has adopted a Recommendation on the use of rapid antigen tests. This was the topic, of course, in the VTC, on when to use them and how to use them. Here is important: The rapid antigen tests are good if you have a high prevalence of infected people of the virus. Of course, the ‘gold standard' is always the PCR, but the PCRs are way more expensive and they need laboratory capacity, so it lasts longer until the result is there. And therefore, the rapid antigen tests are very interesting, for example to manage outbreaks or to regularly monitor high-risk groups, for example in admission to healthcare facilities, but also for the triage of symptomatic patients or residents.

Important is that we set performance criteria. Because at the moment being, you see that a lot of rapid antigen tests are appearing on the market and not all of them have the same quality. So it is important to have rapid antigen tests that have a sensitivity that is above 80%. That means, if you have 100% of infected people, the test has at least to discover more than 80% of these. Or if you prefer smaller numbers: If you have five infected people, at least four should be detected by the rapid antigen test - then, it has a good performance. Why am I saying that? Because there are so many different on the market, it is for us important that we validate and therefore we establish a EU framework for the validation. And this, of course brings then mutual recognition across borders.

The vaccination topic was also of high importance. We have now adopted five contracts with BioNTech, CureVac, AstraZenica, Johnson & Johnson and Sanofi-GSK. And we continue negotiations with Moderna and we are in talks with Novavax. It was very good to see that all Member States have signed up to buy all the same vaccines and stay in our portfolio - that is good news. This portfolio of now five vaccine types - hopefully soon six - is so important, because it covers four different technologies to produce the vaccine. And it may be so that different vaccines work better in different parts of the population than other. Of course, all vaccines in our portfolio will be properly assessed, with all data, by EMA i, the European Medicines Agency, before we authorise them.

For us, it is very important to be in close contact with other renowned authorities, for example when we come to the authorisation of the BioNTech or Moderna vaccine, to be in close cooperation and contact with the FTA - the U.S. equivalent to our EMA. EMA is in daily calls with the FTA to synchronise the assessment. And if all proceeds with no problems, EMA tells us that the conditional marketing authorisation for the BioNTech and Moderna vaccine could happen as early as the second half of December 2020.

To the international part: COVAX - you know, the international facility to make sure that low- and middle-income countries have access to vaccines. Here, the Team Europe i, that is the Member States and the European Commission - provided EUR 800 million to COVAX. This is the largest donation in the world. And this is a very good message of the Team Europe.

Last but not least, we have all learned from the experience in the summer, that the exit from a wave - in this case the exit from the first wave - is very difficult and that the impact of lifting measures too hasty has had a very bad impact on the epidemiological situation in summer and fall. Therefore, this time, expectations have to be managed. We will make a proposal for a gradual and coordinated approach to lifting containment measures. This will be very important to avoid the risk of yet another wave.

And we are working on a vaccination campaign to support Member States in the communication on the importance of vaccines. It is self-protection and it is solidarity.

Finally, indeed, the President of the Council already said that there was a brief exchange on MFF, NextGenerationEU, and the conditionality mechanism. We had found an agreement in July - at 27. It consists of these three components. I think to meet the needs and expectations of the European citizens, we need the whole package. It has been agreed between the Council and the European Parliament. Now, it is important that we move forward. The Commission supports the agreement found in the trilogue between Council and Parliament.

And for me, it is equally important for the future of the European Union, to have a budget and to uphold the rule of law. We are now working with the rotating Presidency, who is leading the efforts to find a solution. We all know that millions of European businesses and citizens are waiting for the answer in the midst of this unprecedented crisis. And the strength of our Union has always been to overcome difficult situations by engaging with each other. So we continue to work hard to reach an agreement soon.

Thank you!