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Von der Leyen could still be toppled Pfizergate has revealed the EU's true nature

Will justice be served? (JOHANNA GERON/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Will justice be served? (JOHANNA GERON/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)


May 31, 2024   5 mins

Nobody embodies the EU’s elite-driven nature better than its incumbent president, Ursula von der Leyen. And no action of hers embodies its warped excesses better than her decision, in April 2021, to single-handedly sign off on a €35-billion deal for the purchase of 1.8 billion doses of the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine. According to one analysis, the price per dose she agreed was 15 times higher than the cost of production — meaning that the EU overpaid the vaccines by tens of billions of euros. Adding fuel to the fire, the New York Times later reported that von der Leyen had personally negotiated the deal via a series of text messages and calls with Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla.

Since then, “Pfizergate” has ballooned into one of the biggest scandals in EU history. Following von der Leyen and the Commission’s refusal to hand over the text messages — not only to journalists, but even to the EU Ombudsman and the EU Court of Auditors — the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO), an independent EU body responsible for investigating and prosecuting financial crimes, announced in late 2022 that it had opened an investigation into the pandemic procurement process (though not into Pfizergate specifically). It confirmed that it had received “an exceptionally high number of reports and complaints” asking that “it investigate the purchase of Covid-19 vaccines in the European Union”.

Then, in April 2023, Frédéric Baldan, a Belgian lobbyist specialising in EU-China trade relations, filed a lawsuit against von der Leyen before a Liège court, accusing her of usurping official powers, destroying public documents, pursuing illicit interests and committing corruption, and damaging his country’s public finances. Shortly after, Baldan’s lobbyist accreditation was withdrawn by the European Parliament. The story, however, doesn’t end there.

Despite von der Leyen’s clumsy attempts to sweep the case under the carpet, or arguably because of them, Pfizergate continues to rumble on. Since Baldan filed his criminal complaint, several individuals, organisations and even two countries — Hungary and Poland (under the previous PiS-led government) — have joined the lawsuit. With Brussels steeling itself for the EU elections in June, all the signs pointed to a big legal bust-up and an even bigger PR disaster.

But then, earlier this month, von der Leyen’s hearing in front of the Belgian court — to decide whether the EPPO or the Belgian investigators should prosecute the case — was mysteriously postponed to December. This is not a trivial matter. Even though a year and a half has passed since the EPPO first opened its investigation, no one has yet been charged. Indeed, it’s unclear whether the EPPO has actually been looking into the case at all. A few days before the recent hearing in Liège was supposed to take place, Baldan’s lawyer, Diane Protat, visited the EPPO’s offices in Brussels and Luxembourg to request a copy of its case file — standard procedure from a legal standpoint. However, not only was she told that there was no such file, but on both occasions security was called on her.

“Even though a year and a half has passed since the EPPO first opened its investigation, no one has yet been charged.”

Such behaviour is typical of the EPPO. For several months after beginning its probe into the EU’s vaccine procurement, it showed little interest in Pfizergate; as far as we know, it didn’t even demand that von der Leyen hand over the infamous text messages. However, shortly after Baldan filed his complaint in Belgium, the EPPO quickly moved to obtain a copy of the document from the Belgian prosecutor’s office — and almost immediately claimed exclusive jurisdiction over the case.

It argues that, if there was any misconduct relating to EU-wide vaccine-procurement deals, this represents a damage to the EU budget, and that under EU law it is up to the EPPO to investigate, prosecute and bring to judgment the perpetrators of criminal offences that affect the EU budget. The complainants see the situation differently: they note that the vaccines were purchased with money that came from member states’ national budgets, not the EU budget — as even von der Leyen herself admitted in a recent presidential debate. That is why they argue that the case should be tried in national courts, such as the Belgian one, rather than by the EPPO.

As for the immunity from legal proceedings that von der Leyen enjoys as president of the Commission, the complainants suggest this applies only with respect to acts carried out within the scope of her defined function as Commission president. Suffice it to say that whether carrying out billion-euro deals behind closed doors, and then leaving member states and taxpayers to foot the bill, falls within the purview of her role is questionable. That said, the plaintiffs face an uphill struggle: if the case moves forward, the request from prosecutors to waiver von der Leyen’s immunity would be handled by the College of Commissioners — which is usually chaired by von der Leyen herself. However, they have an ally in the Belgian investigating judge, Frédéric Frenay, who has successfully investigated several corruption cases in the past: according to Euractiv, he doesn’t agree with the EPPO taking over the case and is insisting that it remain in Belgian hands.

But why is the EPPO, after showing hardly no interest in it for several months, now so adamant about taking over the case? Given the organisation’s behaviour since Pfizergate broke, one could be forgiven for wondering if they were ever interested in truly investigating von der Leyen — or whether they were covering up for her. As the German MEP Martin Sonneborn told the Berliner Zeitung: “Why does the EPPO, which reports to Justice commissioner Didier Reynders, who reports to Commission president von der Leyen, need a year and a half to search von der Leyen’s office in the Commission building and confiscate her work cell phone to view the Pfizer SMSs?”

Questions have already been raised about the body’s judicial independence: last year, for example, it attracted criticism after Giorgia Meloni’s government helped install a new prosecutor despite an independent panel of judiciary experts ranking him last among Italy’s three candidates. Previously, other countries had faced criticism for the same reason. As Sonneborn put it, with the EPPO, “another organisation seems to have been created that does not have the interests of the citizens in mind, but rather the shielding of EU officials from their democratic accountability”.

Seen in this light, the EPPO’s efforts to assume jurisdiction over the Belgian complaint could be read as an attempt to stifle an independent investigation into Pfizergate — or at least delay it until after the EU elections and the nomination process for the new president of the Commission. Certainly, if that was the aim, they’ve succeeded. We can rest assured that Baldan’s recent demand for von der Leyen to be sacked and barred from running for office as long as she is the subject of criminal proceedings will likely fall on deaf ears.

Von der Leyen, however, is far from off-the-hook. After all, the Belgian court may still decide to allocate jurisdiction to the state’s investigative authorities. And who knows, the EPPO might actually decide to start doing some serious investigating itself. Besides, this isn’t the only legal cloud hanging over von der Leyen’s head: another case was filed by the New York Times against the European Commission at the European Court of Justice after they failed to provide them with the text messages, but the court has yet to rule on the matter.

Paradoxically, far from pointing to a well-functioning rule of law, all of these investigations only serve to highlight the complete lack of accountability of EU politicians, and of the EU system more generally: despite all the courts and bodies that have looked into this so far, not one has managed to get von der Leyen to hand over some text messages. But perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. Ultimately, Pfizergate isn’t an isolated incident, but a reflection of the EU’s true nature: a haven where unelected politicians and corporate leaders can cosy up to each other away from prying eyes, unhindered by obsolete concepts such as transparency and the rule of law. The only difference is that, this time, they might finally be caught out.


Thomas Fazi is an UnHerd columnist and translator. His latest book is The Covid Consensus, co-authored with Toby Green.

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Katja Sipple
Katja Sipple
19 days ago

Von der Leyen has been involved in a few scandals, and somehow always managed to wriggle her neck out of the tightening noose! Cronyism has always been her modus operandi, and a few years ago she was involved in awarding lucrative defence contracts to dubious consultants with little or no oversight. For those who don’t know, before her transfer to the EU she was the most inept Minister of Defence Germany had ever had! As she was clueless, she tried to cover that up by buying expertise, except the people she hired were just as inept and incompetent as she is, and the whole charade backfired. Yet somehow Teflon-Ursula, helped by her protector Merkel, Germany’s worst chancellorette, who promoted her to Brussels.
https://www.politico.eu/article/the-scandal-hanging-over-ursula-von-der-leyen/
Of course, there were also the confiscated and wiped mobile phones! https://www.politico.eu/article/von-der-leyen-under-pressure-over-second-wiped-phone/
I cannot stand the woman, and I hope she hangs this time!

Katja Sipple
Katja Sipple
18 days ago
Reply to  Katja Sipple

The word “survived” is missing after Brussels. Sorry about that.

Martin Bollis
Martin Bollis
18 days ago

“Since then, “Pfizergate” has ballooned into one of the biggest scandals in EU history.”

Yet strangely getting about 0.01% of the publicity that partygate got and even less coverage than the fact it was raining when Rishi called the election.

Mike Downing
Mike Downing
18 days ago
Reply to  Martin Bollis

Yes but “partygate” was the remoaner blob’s revenge for Brexit and that huge election victory (reprehensible though the behaviour was) whereas this doesn’t fit the narrative does it ?

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
18 days ago

Ugh. You really can’t make this stuff up. Is there any international organization that isn’t corrupt to the core?

Mike Downing
Mike Downing
18 days ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

Nope, in a word.

To paraphrase John Betjamen – “Come friendly bombs and fall on ….”

Geneva – an overrated place if ever there was one; they can finish off all those “international ” organisations including FIFA and the WEF at the same time. Full of useless bureaucrats lining their pockets and achieving f**k all.

Andrew Wise
Andrew Wise
18 days ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely

Lancashire Lad
Lancashire Lad
18 days ago

Come on, you EU remainiacs, let’s hear you defend this.

Katja Sipple
Katja Sipple
18 days ago
Reply to  Lancashire Lad

There is no defence. I regret to this day that I did not participate in the Brexit Referendum. My father voted in favour of Brexit, but I, living overseas, abstained from casting my vote. I have been sceptical of the EU for some time, but the corruption allegations are now beyond the pale, and I want to see this massive self-serving bureaucratic apparatus fall like the house of cards it is.

Jo Jo
Jo Jo
18 days ago
Reply to  Katja Sipple

I voted Brexit too, Katja, and I regret not gaining it. Many others feel similar!

Andrew Thompson
Andrew Thompson
16 days ago
Reply to  Lancashire Lad

I’m sorry they’re all quite busy today..maybe tomorrow eh.

0 0
0 0
17 days ago

She is an utter disgrace with her ‘european values’ gebrabbel as we say in the netherlands.

Richard Calhoun
Richard Calhoun
18 days ago

Deep corruption in the EU with no accountability to the voter.
We are well out of that nest of vipers that is the EU Commission.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
18 days ago

Unfortunately it seems increasingly clear that you can take the country out of the corrupt bureaucracy but you can’t take the corrupt bureaucracy out of the country.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
18 days ago

Even though a year and a half has passed since the EPPO first opened its investigation, no one has yet been charged.
And it is doubtful that anyone will be charged. Same thing is happening in the US. Anthony Fauci is due to appear before some Congressional committee or other on the heels of emails that document how he lied and assorted other shady actions undertaken by him and his minions.
Will anything come of it? Not likely, not beyond the usual posturing and preening that characterizes these events, as committee members act high and mighty while hoping no one notices how much Pharma campaign cash they banked.

dermot wilson
dermot wilson
12 days ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

Bread and Circuses for the sheeple. Here, in Etats Unis our esteemed leaders are engaging in the usual theater of stating the obvious in various dramatic displays of righteousness towards Lord Fauci. The real questions would be pointed at the DOD but thats beyond the Overton window.

Andrew R
Andrew R
18 days ago

Technocrats are never wrong and by that measure they can never be corrupt. Utopia will have to wait.

Mark epperson
Mark epperson
18 days ago

Nothing like a suitcased uber bureaucratic corrupt cover-up organization. They are so inept at everything except taking care of themselves. Hopefully, they will be thrown out and a fair full blown investigation will result is multtiple year of making little rocks out of big ones. You get what you deserve.

Andrew Martin
Andrew Martin
18 days ago

The biggest scandal is spending all that money on vaccines that at best are next to useless against a virus that would have run its course without the GMO interventions and worst causing major multi pathologies in the multi vaccinated.
My advice to the equally stupid Rishi Sunak is to knock this technology on the head for a one size fits all and start saving for Anti-Virals such as Ivermectin and Hydroxychloroquine which are cheap and effective. Very soon the virus will become virulent again thanks to these “vaccines” and many deaths are threatened as are the health services of the Western world.

john d rockemella
john d rockemella
17 days ago

The fact that these so called vaccines are causing such harm and death, and also that her husband is in this industry and personally benefitting. I am so surprised at everyone who isn’t questioning the nature of the so called mrna vaccines. These are bioweapons, and the reason they dont care is most people have taken them now. The stats are highlighting the injuries caused, and people are still focussed on politicians, they only enact the will of the powerful, this is the great reset to crash the west.

Jeff Carr
Jeff Carr
16 days ago

And this is the organisation that our elite establishment wishes us to rejoin.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
18 days ago

This is why, when I hear about the EU pursuing rule of law proceedings against – for example – Poland and Hungary, I just chuckle at the irony.
Martin Sonneborn and his former ally Nico Semsrott are about the only reasons left why I pay any further attention to what’s going on in the EP. Sonneborn is sticking around – Nico Semsrott isn’t pursuing a second term since what he say during the first one made him – I quote – “lose faith in (almost) everything”.
Here’s a video trailer for Sonneborn’s new book, including a clip of him absolutely trashing VdL in the EP hemicycle: https://www.kiwi-verlag.de/magazin/videos/martin-sonneborn-herr-sonneborn-bleibt-bruessel-buchtrailer

Jo Jo
Jo Jo
18 days ago

I’ve recently read suggestions that not only did Pfizer produce and promote the vaccine, they’re also implicated in producing the actual Covid virus. If anyone has further info, please post? Thanks.

David Colquhoun
David Colquhoun
18 days ago

Presumably this piece is just another anti-vaccination rant, a favourite topic of the anti-science right. Why else would anyone be criticised for taking action to protect people from a disease that killed millions of people, especially the middle-aged and elderly? In April 2021 we were in a dire emergency and if the EU really paid to much for the vaccines, surely you should be criticising Pfizer, not Von der Leyen.

Santiago Excilio
Santiago Excilio
18 days ago

You are Ursula von der Leyen, and I claim my £5

dermot wilson
dermot wilson
12 days ago

See Cognitive Dissonance…chapter 7