EU embarrassment: VDL ‘playing tricks’ on voters – Brussels chief scolded by own official

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After a lengthy inquiry, the EU’s Ombudsman, Emily O’Reilly found Ursula von der Leyen’s Commission failed to allow the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) to act in the best interest of European citizens.

Ms O’Reilly blasted the Commission President as she claimed Mrs von der Leyen “played a trick” on Europeans.

She told Politico: “You should not set up an agency that calls itself the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control and then not allow it to do that.

“That’s a trick that is being played on the public.”

The Ombudsman found the Commission failed to provide full transparency and accountability on the collection of Covid data from member states throughout the pandemic.

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When the row broke out with AstraZeneca over demands to make its vaccine contract public, “suddenly the Commission was calling for transparency,” Ms O’Reilly said.

She added: “They saw the value in transparency because it was in their interest.

“So they need to perhaps spend as much time and attention looking at the public interest when releasing this.

“It can’t be the institutions who control the tap … the public interest has to override everything.”

In the report, she continued: “Too often, national authorities struggled to report complete data to the ECDC or did not even answer its appeals for important data.

“It also had no comprehensive set of data on hospital and other critical medical resources across the Member States.”

“Transparency and accountability should be the bedrock of an institution that has a role in protecting public health.

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“Much more should have been done to communicate with the general public to explain how and on what scientific evidence the ECDC made its assessments.

“Crises not only require extraordinary responses from public administrations but also extraordinary efforts to maintain public trust.

“As Member States embark on vital vaccination programmes, this public trust is essential and the ECDC will continue to play a central role gathering and publicising information on the vaccine rollout.

“Our proposals to the ECDC today should prove useful in this context.”

She added: “This is an unprecedented crisis, and I recognise the hard work and dedication of the ECDC throughout this highly challenging period.

“But without specific new powers to ensure the completeness and quality of the data it receives from national authorities, it cannot fully fulfil the mandate it has to help control the next pandemic.

“This is now a matter for EU legislators.”

The Commission has come under attack in the past few weeks over its handling of the vaccine rollout.

Mrs von der Leyen was forced to defend herself after she threatened to trigger Article 16 of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement putting a ban on vaccine exports to Northern Ireland.

The move, criticised by EU leaders and in particular by Irish Prime Minister Michael Martin, was then retracted, albeit leaving the Commission President in a difficult position.

The Commission also engaged in a bitter contractual row with vaccine supplier AstraZeneca after it emerged the jab producers were forced to cut down the number of doses promised to EU countries.

Mrs von der Leyen was forced to apologise for attempting to use a delicate clause of the Brexit deal to benefit the EU’s procurement of vaccine supplies.

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