Pfizer and Ursula von der Leyen: the missing text messages
The public should know about her private dealings with the company's CEO
The New York Times is taking the European Commission to court over Ursula von der Leyen’s refusal to release the text messages she exchanged with Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla, in which she personally negotiated the purchase of up to 1.8 billion doses of the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine. This is the latest episode in an ongoing saga which paints the EU in an extremely bad light. Here’s what we know so far.
Shortly after the signing of the deal in April 2021 — the bloc’s biggest yet, worth a staggering €35 billion (tens of billions of euros above the cost of production, according to one analysis) — the New York Times reported that von der Leyen had single-handedly negotiated it via a series of text messages and calls with Bourla. At that point Alexander Fanta, a journalist at the German news site netzpolitik.org, wrote to the Commission asking to access the text messages and other documents relating to the exchange between von der Leyen and Bourla. The Commission claimed no such documents existed.
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Baffled by the response, Fanta made a formal complaint to the European Ombudsman, Emily O’Reilly. In January 2022, the Ombudsman published the result of her investigation, which found that the Commission hadn’t even asked von der Leyen’s office to search for text messages, despite Fanta specifically requesting them. Instead, it asked for items that met the Commission’s criteria for recording “documents” — a definition that does not include text messages. To address this, O’Reilly made a recommendation that the Commission ask von der Leyen’s office to search again for relevant text messages, but the Commission refused to comply.
The EU’s Values and Transparency Commissioner Věra Jourová later claimed that the text messages may have been deleted, due to their “short-lived, ephemeral nature” and defended the Commission’s right not to keep records of the texts in view of the fact that “text and instant messages in general do not contain important information relating to policies, activities and decisions of the Commission, nor are they in the possession of the institution”. As Fanta commented on Twitter, the explanation made little sense: “An increasing amount of modern communication happens via text. Including important stuff, EU summit diplomacy, climate negotiations, etc. Should all this be obliterated from public record and historical archives?”
As time went by, other EU bodies got involved — but the stonewalling continued. In September of last year, the plot thickened after the European Court of Auditors published a report, accusing the Commission of refusing to disclose any details of von der Leyen’s personal role in the talks. This prompted the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO), an independent EU body responsible for investigating and prosecuting financial crimes, including fraud, money laundering and corruption, to open an investigation — still ongoing — into the whole EU Covid vaccine procurement process.
It remains to be seen whether the EPPO’s investigation and the New York Times lawsuit will succeed where all others have failed. But one thing is clear: it’s hard to imagine a more telling example of the EU’s complete lack of transparency, disregard for democracy and unsavoury cosiness with big business — and of the cronyism and corruption that has characterised the entire Covid management, and the vaccine rollout in particular — than a Commission president personally making a deal worth tens of billions of euros with a Big Pharma CEO. Then add to that the refusal to disclose the texts in question, or even the contracts related to the purchase, despite multiple requests by some of the highest EU bodies. Bourla himself has repeatedly refused to testify before the European Parliament’s special Covid committee. What are they so afraid of?
The response from Jourová has got to be one of the most egregious insults to Europeans’ collective intelligence that there has ever been (VdL’s appointment to Commission President possibly taking the biscuit).
Maybe you could have said this back in the early 2000s – but now, when texts are in important tool in negotiations in business adn in politics? Seriously?
Comforting to know that covid-related profiteering among the upper echelons isn’t confined to our own government. But even I – a born again remoaner – have to admit this doesn’t look good.
“The EU’s Values and Transparency Commissioner Věra Jourová later claimed that the text messages may have been deleted, due to their “short-lived, ephemeral nature” and defended the Commission’s right not to keep records of the texts…”
WTF? This is the Values and Transparency Commissioner? They don’t even try to appear democratic anymore. It’s like 1984 is required reading for these people.
LOL. Agreed. It’s refreshing to hear that the NYT isn’t telling its blinded readers that the whole story is a conspiracy theory planted by Russian bots.
No doubt the BBC will cover this, and the current Qatar-related EU scandal, in as much detail as it covers even a hint of wrong-doing in the UK’s Conservative government.
To their credit, one publication that has been pursuing all this is Politico.
They even have a running section on the Quatargate scnadal
Thanks for that link
OK – you create a supranational organisation which you then use as a dumping ground for politicians like Ursula von der Leyen, Mandelson, Kinnock etc, who have become an embarrassment even to their cronies at home. You then give control of a multi-billion dollar budget to these same proven incompetents and then scratch your heads wondering why everything has gone t1ts up.
Do you think if the shenanigans of these people were adequately reported by the British media that there would be any remainers left? There wouldn’t, would there?
Yes there would be lots. You see there is a perfectly good explanation for all this but I suspect it would be too difficult for your below average intelligence, thuggish, racist, xenophobic Brexit supporter to understand. Therefore no explanation will be offered and the delaying tactics and obfuscation will continue until people have forgotten what all the fuss was. Next!
Posted like a true Remoaner.
You and those with similarly unfounded arrogance are precisely why we left, and i doubt those sour grapes taste better than the cheaper New World wines we’re now enjoying
Oh dear! I think you have missed the sarcasm in my comment. A trait for which I am well known but of course you would not be aware of that. My post was an effort to predict what arrogant Remainers might say to an uneducated oaf like me who had the temerity to ask questions about this and other EU shenanigans. Sorry you didnt get the sarcasm! (Or are you being sarcastic too and I have missed it? My head hurts)
I’m usually pretty good at detecting irony/sarcasm, but if what you say is genuine then i hold my hand up – had me fooled!
Reading back now, it does seem just a little over the top, even by Remoaner standards!
I assure you it was genuine. I will have to make my sarcasm more obvious but sometimes that defeats the object. No harm done
Perhaps a trigger warning next time?
Good idea! Might save wear and tear on the finger I use to type. Thanks
I thought it was fairly obvious myself. Perhaps you were just too good at it.
The problem is that there really are people who think just the way you portrayed in your original post! So it can be very hard to tell!
Presumably you see democracy as a waste of time, given the utter stupidity of the electorate? Wow, you really have let your nastiness show
Please see my replies to Mr Murray. I think I will stick to reading and not posting from now on
No, please continue, i’ll look forward to your future Comments being serially misinterpreted!
I know I am going against my last post by posting but thanks. Right, time for the pub.
Yes please continue, very funny! Maybe put [sarc] on the end to remind us
Just back from the pub, so I will keep it brief. Good idea – will do. Thanks
I want to see the internal Pfizer memos concerning the suspiciously-timed release of the vaccine trial data after the US election.
What a waste of money it would be as well as the Pfizer vaccine was next to useless against this fast mutating virus. We in the UK were no better though bringing in other vaccine manufacturers only to drop them like a stone for the be all and end all Pfizer vaccine.
I think it’s kinda hilarious that the NYT is asking for this information. What are they gonna do if they actually get it?
Try and spin corruption into a positive/necessity in the “fight against COVID”?
Good one! I wonder if it will be on par with an investigation of the Twitter files?
Or the Hunter laptop and Russian collusion?
I cannot possibly comment on deleted emails from VDL regards to Pfizer but I am aware of her deleted Emails/wiped phone when she was the German defence Minister. This lady certainly has form. https://www.politico.eu/article/wiped-phone-puts-von-der-leyen-back-in-contracting-scandal-spotlight/
I don’t think UvdL is very tech savvy otherwise she would have conducted her negotiations via Whatsapp and had her retention preferences set to max of 30 mins. Then everything would have gone up in smoke and be totally unrecoverable.
There is no such thing as deleted texts. They are all retrievable.
Sue Gray’s investigation of Partygate, amongst many other recent inquiries, required politicians and civil servants to make available their texts and other messages. UK Government ministers have been censured for using personal email addresses and phones for conducting government business. No-one in British politics can possibly claim the Commission’s approach is remotely justified yet the calls to rejoin the corrupt EU will continue unabated.
Couple this behaviour with the unbelievable EU treatment of AstraZeneca and its vaccine and you really do have all the arrows pointing at skullduggery in Brussels
It is also about different national attitude to meetings culture, documents and archives culture, i found it very noticeable in the EU.
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