The New York Times is suing the European Commission because to date its president Ursula von der Leyen has not made public the text messages exchanged during the Covid-19 pandemic with the CEO of Pfizer. Vaccine contracts still not made public
While civil society has been demanding for almost two years the publication of all the contracts signed between the European Commission and Pfizer, the case has been re-launched by the powerful American media, The New York Times, which has filed a complaint against the European Commission for refusing to publish the text messages exchanged between Albert Bourla, CEO of Pfizer and Von Der Leyen, President of the European Commission.
The American media justifies its decision to sue the European Commission because it has the obligation to make public these exchanges which would contain information on the contracts of vaccines signed between the EU and Pfizer.
As a reminder, in April 2021, the New York Times published an article in which it reported that the Commission President and Pfizer CEO had exchanged text messages related to the purchase of COVID-19 vaccines. This prompted a journalist to request public access to text messages and other documents relating to the exchange. The Commission identified three documents as falling within the scope of the request – an e-mail, a letter and a press release – all of which were published. The complainant turned to the Ombudsman because the Commission had not identified any SMS.
In January 2022, the Ombudsman criticised the Commission’s handling of the request for public access to SMS messages. After his investigation, it turned out that the Commission, instead of requesting a search of SMS messages, asked his office to search for documents that met the Commission’s internal registration criteria (text messages are currently not considered to meet these criteria). She urged the Commission to “conduct a more thorough search for relevant messages.
“The handling of this request for access to documents leaves the unfortunate impression of a
European institution that is not forthcoming on major issues of public interest,”
On 29 June, EU Transparency Commissioner Věra Jourová replied that the search for messages had “not yielded any results”.
Following this the European Ombudsman had severely criticised the European Commission and considered the lack of willingness to find these SMS messages a red flag.
The European Commission does not consider SMS to be part of its duty of transparency, and says it cannot retrieve them either. Oversight bodies such as the European Ombudsman and the European Court of Auditors have already denounced the opacity that the Commission continues to maintain. So has the European Parliament.
The vaccine contract affair has caused a furore in Europe, with many politicians calling for an investigation into an extremely opaque deal. In fact, on 16 December, seven Green MEPs declared war on the President of the European Commission.