France accuses UK of ‘blackmail’ and urges vaccine agreement

The French Foreign Minister says the EU must find an agreement with the UK over vaccine doses and avoid games of "blackmail".

France accuses UK of 'blackmail' and urges vaccine agreement
Foreign Minister Jean Yves le Drian with UK PM Boris Johnson.(Photo by YVES HERMAN / POOL / AFP)

Jean Yves Le Drian on Friday accused Britain of “blackmail” against the European Union over Covid-19 vaccine
deliveries, saying the UK was under pressure because it lacked doses for second vaccine shots.

“The United Kingdom has taken great pride in vaccinating well with the first dose except they have a problem with the second dose,” Le Drian told France Info radio.

“You are vaccinated when you have had both doses. Today there are as many people vaccinated with both in France as the United Kingdom,” he added, while calling for a “cooperation agreement” with London over deliveries by pharma group AstraZeneca.

“We must find a cooperative relationship with the United Kingdom so that AstraZeneca fulfills its commitments signed with the European Union and that everyone can find their way around,” said foreign minister Jean Yves le Drian.

“We cannot play blackmail. I hope we are going to come to an agreement, it would be absurd to have a vaccine war between the UK and Europe,” he said.

“You can’t be playing like this, a bit of blackmail, just because you hurried to get people vaccinated with a first shot, and now you’re a bit handicapped because you don’t have the second one,” he added.

The latest EU-UK row is about an AstraZeneca plant in the Netherlands, which Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government claims as part of the British vaccine supply chain.

The European Union warned Thursday it would ban drugs firms from exporting coronavirus vaccines to the UK and other well-supplied countries until they make good on their promised deliveries to the bloc.

EU chief Ursula von der Leyen’s stark warning — which could hit UK-based AstraZeneca first — came after a video summit of all 27 EU leaders and stoked fears that cross-Channel rivalry could damage global efforts to combat the pandemic.

According to data compiled by AFP, Britain has administered two vaccine doses to 4.1 percent of its population, against 3.9 percent overall in France.

Le Drian’s comments came the morning after French President Emmanuel Macron scolded Astra Zeneca for not honouring its contractual commitments with the EU, unlike the producers of other vaccines.

Macron said that out of the 120 million AstraZeneca doses ordered by the EU, only 30 million had been delivered.

READ MORE: EU toughens rules for vaccine exports to avoid shortfalls

Member comments

  1. Just order more J&J, safer, quicker, cheaper, better! Give the uk their AZ so they can finish second doses. AZ won’t be readily accepted by many in France I guess.

    1. The French vaccine manufacturer – SANOFI – is one of the biggest suppliers in the world. Capable of 120m vaccines p.a. This is a fact, they manufacter ‘flu vaccines and others too. I suggest the French establishment (Macron and friends) address themselves to manufacturing the Oxford Astra Zeneca in the Sanofi factories in France. The Sanofi home grown original efforts failed and they are now in bed with Pfizer BioNtech to try to make that vaccine. When they do eventually get there (late summer) ( there will be five jours feriees in May), there will be more than enough for everyone.
      Very sad to witness the plain and obvious fact that not only the EU got their order contract wrongly negotiated, failes to order soon enough, failed to pay up front and negotiated a ludicrous price, but French nationalism has prevented the immediate manufacture of the Oxford and Pfizer in their own factories, which currently lie idle.

  2. Just order is not how it works, they simply are not on the shelves. The first point is that the UK funded the Oxford Research, Astra Zeneca are supplying the vaccine at cost as opposed to Pfizer at x 5 the cost. J&J is no safer and not cheaper – look at the data. AZ UK produces 120,000 doses per hour in the UK so enough for the UK. The EU ordered their doses some 3 months after the UK did, the contract which AZ published does not commit to a time delivery just quantity when it is available. AZ in Europe has had production problems. Last week the EU had AZ stocks in storage and not being distributed. French are more reluctant to be vaccinated full stop. The UK has already contributed vaccine to Covax. The reasoning of the UK panicking about second doses and comparing with France is a nonsense. One dose of AZ gives you 76% protection against Covid and 100% against getting Covid seriously enough to end up in Hospital. If France had followed the same idea then they would have vaccinated twice as many people. Macron blaming BoJo for his problems is purely political as he cannot accept he has made mistakes. If you don’t get your towel on the beach early you don’t get the best spot and there is no point trying to blame someone else you ignored the alarm.

  3. Macron is trying to defuse his terrible record of buying the vaccine late in the day, then taking months to get the health authorisation, before then persuading people the AZ vaccine was not reliable!
    During all this millions of doses of AZ went to waste sat in boxes and fridges.
    Now, he has the temerity to try to lay the blame in all of this mis-management at the doors of others.

  4. At this point, there is enough political blame to go around. The UK is playing Brexit nationalist politics and France is bogged down in making things complicated for the sake of bureaucratic logic. We should not forget that AZ has behaved quite horribly in all of this – not only with not delivering doses as promised and agreed to in their contract with the EU and playing favourites simply to maximise their cash flow (the EU paid upfront, UK pays on delivery) but by also not being fully transparent about their trials. At this point, France is mostly culpable for not rolling out the AZ vaccine as quickly as possible to the people willing to actually have it. The risks of getting a fatal complication with AZ are far lower than crossing the street in Paris, and I’ll take those odds – but I’m not going to be given that option any time soon. Now that more and more of the people filling the ICU’s are under 50, France needs to speed things up. I’m 49 and an educator who is expected to be in a classroom despite the risks. Maybe I can get a vaccine in April, or so I have been told – but more likely not until late May or June. At least 10% of my colleagues and students have gotten Covid since January – and some are still too sick to come back after months of being ‘recovered’. This overly complicated and bureaucratically rigid rollout with strict adherence to priority categories and holding back 100% of the second shots is starting to backfire in a very bad way. ‘Lockdown light’ is ineffective because, as anyone who walks though a park on the weekend will observe, far too many people are not following the guidelines. Right now we need shots in as many arms as possible, and the cross-channel politics are merely a distraction.

  5. So far as I can see It’s the EU that only knows how to operate by blackmail. ‘Give us your fish or we’ll cut off your access to the Grid’, ‘Sign the Irish Protocol before we will discuss trade’, and now interfering in the free market and threatening commercial contracts unless UK waives its rights.

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


Carte vitale: France to adopt a new ‘biometric’ health card

The French parliament has approved a €20 million project to launch a 'biometric' version of the carte vitale health insurance card.

Carte vitale: France to adopt a new 'biometric' health card

As part of the French government’s package of financial aid for the cost-of-living crisis, €20 million will be set set aside to launch a biometric health card, after an amendment proposed by senators was approved.

Right-wing senators made this measure a “condition” of their support for the financial aid package, according to French left-wing daily Libération, and on Thursday the measure was approved by the Assemblée nationale.

While it sounds quite high tech, the idea is relatively simple, according to centre-right MP Thibault Bazin: the carte vitale would be equipped with a chip that “contains physical characteristics of the insured, such as their fingerprints” which would allow healthcare providers to identify them.

The carte vitale is the card that allows anyone registered in the French health system to be reimbursed for medical costs such as doctor’s appointments, medical procedures and prescriptions. The card is linked to the patient’s bank account so that costs are reimbursed directly into the bank account, usually within a couple of days.

READ ALSO How a carte vitale works and how to get one

According to the centre-right Les Républicains group, the reason for having a ‘biometric’ carte vitale is to fight against welfare fraud.

They say this would have two functions; firstly the biometric data would ensure the card could only be used by the holder, and secondly the chip would allow for instant deactivation if the card was lost of stolen.

Support for the biometric carte vitale has mostly been concentrated with right-wing representatives, however, opponants say that the implementation of the tool would be costly and lengthy.

It would involve replacing at least 65 million cards across France and repurposing them with biometric chips, in addition to taking fingerprints for all people concerned.

Additionally, all healthcare professionals would have to join the new system and be equipped with devices capable of reading fingerprints. 

Left-leaning representatives have also voiced concerns regarding the protection of personal data and whether plans would comply with European regulations for protecting personal data, as the creation of ‘biometric’ carte vitales would inevitably lead to the creation of a centralised biometric database. Additionally, there are concerns regarding whether this sensitive personal information could be exposed to cybercrime, as the health insurance system in France has been targeted by hackers in the past.

Finally, there is concern that the amount of financial loss represented by carte vitale fraud has been overestimated. The true figures are difficult to establish, but fraud related to carte vitale use is only a small part of general welfare fraud, which also covers unemployment benefits and other government subsidy schemes.

The scheme is set to begin in the autumn, but there us no information on how this will be done, and whether the biometric chip will just be added to new cards, or whether existing cards will be replaced with new ones.