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Ursula von der Leyen’s Behaviour Falls Short of Transparency Required Under EU Law

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An investigation by an EU watchdog into secret text messages sent by Ursula von der Leyen, EU Commission President, to Albert Bourla, Pfizer CEO, has accused von der Leyen of “maladministration”.

A journalist, netzpolitik.org’s Alexander Fanta, submitted a Freedom of Information request (“FoI”) in May 2021 to release text messages between von der Leyen and Bourla.

The Commission, however, stated that it is not in possession of those communications at all. Texts and other short messages are by their “nature a short-lived document which does not contain in principle important information concerning matters relating to the policies, activities and decisions of the Commission,” wrote the Commission’s secretary-general. In that respect, “the Commission record-keeping policy would in principle exclude instant messaging.” This means that if the Commission wants to keep something in the dark, it can simply use WhatsApp.

The spokesperson didn’t answer the question as to whether von der Leyen’s messages to Bourla were deleted, whether they still exist or whether the Commission just doesn’t know. The commission refused to say whether the texts existed – even though von der Leyen had referred to them herself in a media interview.

Von der Leyen’s office’s response to the text messages between her and Bourla prompted the submission of a complaint to the EU’s ombudswoman Emily O’Reilly.

Pfizer has signed multiple contracts with the Commission for its “vaccine.” The most recent in the spring of 2021 where the EU Commission agreed to buy 1.8 billion doses from Pfizer – making the pharmaceutical giant the Commission’s main supplier – at a higher price than previously set, to be delivered between the end of 2021 to 2023 among the 27 EU member states.

The breakthrough in the negotiations was said to have come from direct communication between von der Leyen and Bourla who discussed the purchase in detail in calls and messages. The two had been in frequent contact by phone and text message for over a month as they tried to wrap up a deal.

But the public knows little about the business deal, the Commission disclosed a preliminary agreement and a purchase agreement with Pfizer, but blacked out the delivery price and liability clauses.

The commission has been criticised for the high prices negotiated for the mRNA Covid injections, with one analysis suggesting the EU paid €31bn (£25bn) above the cost of production, the Guardian reported.

In the summer, the EU Commission rejected a FoI from Fanta. “She doesn’t even want to reveal whether the messages still exist or whether they have already been deleted in the meantime.  We complained about this lack of transparency to the EU ombudswoman, Emily O’Reilly,”  Fanta wrote.

Yesterday, Ombudsman O’Reilly published her recommendations to the Commission.  She considers von der Leyen’s personal office not attempting to identify any text messages constituted “maladministration.”  To address this, O’Reilly made a recommendation that the Commission ask its President’s personal office “to search again for relevant text messages.”

Meanwhile six months ago, von der Leyen delivered the keynote speech at the European Ombudsman ‘Award for Good Administration’ 2021 in which she said:

“When I became Commission President, I said that all EU institutions should be open and beyond reproach on ethics, transparency, and integrity. In a true partnership and exchange of use on a basis of fair inquiries and inspections, your assessment of complaints, your recommendations have helped the Commission to improve and lead the way. My Commission has shown that we are ready and willing to improve our ways of working.”

European Ombudsman Award for Good Administration 2021 – Speech by Ursula von der Leyen, 1 July 2021 (5 mins)

Von der Leyen, who was Germany’s defence minister before moving to Brussels, was engulfed in a similar scandal shortly after leaving Berlin for Brussels in 2019. She was criticised for a mobile phone that was wiped clean and believed to be key evidence in a German defence ministry procurement scandal that she led.  Although she denied having anything to hide when this emerged.

It has become normal for the European Commission to withhold information regarding Covid injections: contracts are largely obscured and permission to disclose the information contained is denied, wrote Italy 24 News, during Covid it became taboo to question the independence and sanctity of those involved.  One of the main players in this whole game is the Commission and its President.

Italy 24 News also noted: “the pharmaceutical industry, through their payments, support 86% of the budget of the EMA Agency, the European Union agency that evaluates drugs.”

Additionally, Ursula’s husband, Heiko von der Leyen, is the Medical Director of Orgenesis, an American biotechnology company specialising in cell and gene therapies, the very same technologies involved in mRNA “vaccines” used by pharmaceutical companies against Covid. The same “vaccines” for which his wife, the Commission’s President, quickly closed emergency contracts with Pfizer.

Rep Update: Secretive EU Commission slammed for ‘resistance to scrutiny’ as VDL text row explodes, 28 January 2022 (3 mins)

UK Ministers Use Personal Accounts

The use of personal accounts to secure contracts is reminiscent of what was revealed in the UK last year.

Boris Johnson, Matt Hancock and Lord Bethell had all been reportedly using private email accounts or WhatsApp for Government business, discussing matters of national importance – from the spread of Covid-19 in care homes to the award of lucrative Government contracts.

Good Law Project asked the question: Why would Ministers choose to use personal accounts rather than official channels?

“They seem to believe this is a loophole to avoid scrutiny. If politicians think they can evade oversight from the Courts or dodge Freedom of Information requests by using private email and WhatsApp, the question becomes: what have they got to hide?”

“For months, Government has been refusing to hand over evidence in our challenge concerning Abingdon Health, the testing company awarded £85 million worth of contracts without competition. Yesterday we took Government to Court to fight for this evidence – and we had a good day,” Good Law Project wrote on 22 September 2021, “the Judge ordered the search of Matt Hancock’s WhatsApp messages and personal email accounts [and] Lord Bethell must provide a Witness Statement to the Court to explain – once and for all – what happened to his phone.”

A few days before the Daily Mail reported that “embattled peer Lord Bethell” resigned following scrutiny over 33,000 emails from his private email address linked to £90million Covid deals.  His departure from the Department of Health and Social Care followed calls for him to resign over his use of personal rather than official communication channels.

“It emerged Lord Bethell had recently replaced his mobile phone and that data on the old one may no longer be retrievable … Government lawyers previously said the old phone had been ‘broken’ six months ago and that data held on it was not contained on the replacement … The lost information was reported to have included WhatsApp and SMS messages,” the Daily Mail wrote.

It sounds like Lord Bethell and von der Leyen have been giving each other tips on how to avoid scrutiny.

Sources:

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