PARIS, France — France has criticized a push by Austria and Denmark to coordinate with Israel on developing new COVID-19 shots, as EU unity frays even further over its troubled vaccine rollout.
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz announced the Israeli partnership on Monday, saying the European Medicines Agency (EMA) was “too slow in approving vaccines,” leaving the bloc vulnerable to supply bottlenecks at pharmaceutical companies.
But France’s foreign ministry defended the agency and insisted that “the most effective solution for meeting our vaccination needs must remain within a European framework.”
“This is what guarantees the solidarity among member states that is more essential than ever,” it said in a statement late Wednesday.
European officials are under pressure to step up vaccination drives that have lagged behind those of other countries, including Israel and Britain, which approved coronavirus vaccines several weeks before the EMA.
“We should not be solely dependent on the EU anymore,” Kurz said ahead of a trip to Israel with his Danish counterpart Mette Frederiksen on Thursday to agree on common production of future vaccines and cooperation on research.
Austria’s neighbors Slovakia, Hungary and the Czech Republic have already bypassed the EMA to approve Russian and Chinese coronavirus vaccines.
France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian acknowledged on Wednesday “significant” shortcomings in the EU’s vaccination policies, but criticized what he called “attempts at secession.”
European nations should instead pool their resources to increase vaccine production capacity in Europe, “something we are in the process of doing,” the ministry said in its statement.
“The approval process for the European market has also been reviewed, with the introduction of ’emergency procedures’ for vaccines targeting new variants,” it added.