James CrispThu, 25 March 2021, 12:59 pm
Jean-Claude Juncker has attacked Ursula von der Leyen, his successor as European Commission president, for starting a “stupid vaccine war” with Britain.
Mr Juncker said he was “not a fan” of Mrs von der Leyen’s threat of imposing an export ban on EU manufactured jabs to the UK and warned it would “create major reputational damage” for the bloc.
“We used to be the world’s free trade champion,” he said as EU leaders meet for a summit to discuss the potential ban, “We have to pull back from a vaccine war.”
Mr Juncker also criticised the EU for being too slow in approving and buying vaccines, branding the bloc as “too cautious” and “budget conscious” in an interview with BBC’s HardTalk.
Watch: Brussels tightens vaccine export rules to ensure jabs stay in the bloc 0:00 2:31 Brussels tightens vaccine export rules to ensure jabs stay in the bloc
The veteran politician led the commission from 2014 to 2019, which included the period after the Brexit referendum.
“We have special relations with Britain, there’s room for dialogue […] nobody in Britain, nobody in Europe understands why we are witnessing such a stupid vaccine war,” Mr Juncker said.
“What the EU is asking for cannot be dealt with in a war atmosphere. We are not in war and we are not enemies – we are allies.”
The former prime minister of Luxembourg added: “I don’t understand this [EU] temptation to fight against Britain, and the British temptation to fight against the EU. Let’s discuss it amongst adult people. What is the image we’re giving?'”
The EU summit, forced online because of the third wave of coronavirus sweeping Europe, is being held as new trade rules come into force which allow Brussels to target countries, like Britain, with higher vaccination rates than the EU.
The commission has already threatened to block the export of millions of AstraZeneca vaccines from the company’s Halix plant in Leiden, the Netherlands. It wants the UK to forego its first refusal on supplies from AstraZeneca’s two British plants so they can supply the bloc.
Divided EU leaders are expected to withhold explicit backing for a ban amid fears it could spark a vaccines trade war.
But the pressure on Britain is expected to build because France, Germany and Italy all support Mrs von der Leyen’s plan to threaten bans targeted at AstraZeneca.