Austria offers Czech Republic vaccine doses amid bitter EU dispute

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said Friday his government has offered to send the Czech Republic 30,000 vaccine doses in an effort to help stem a surging number of infections there.

As the chancellor extended aid to the neighbouring EU country, Kurz also took the opportunity to repeat his criticism of the 27-member bloc’s vaccine distribution system.

Even though the Czech Republic is currently struggling through one of the worst outbreaks on the continent, Kurz said the European Union had not done enough to offer the country additional vaccine doses.

“If there is too little vaccination progress in some countries, then the result is bad for everyone, because we can only defeat the pandemic together,” he said.

On Thursday, the 27 members failed to agree on redistributing extra vaccine doses after several members – the Czech Republic among them – claimed they were treated unfairly and not being helped enough.

In principle, the EU states had agreed months ago on proportional and simultaneous deliveries based on population. 

But several EU members who feel especially strained by the pandemic asked to have 10 million recently acquired extra doses from BioNTech/Pfizer redistributed in their favour. 

The negotiators from the 27 countries could not agree to a unified position on how the 10 million doses would be distributed. 

Three countries – Austria, Slovenia, and the Czech Republic – were so upset they splintered off from the rest and will only receive their share according to existing pro-rata calculations.

The Austrian chancellor said his country was not taking part out of solidarity with the Czech Republic, which deserved far more of the extra vaccine doses than was being offered in the proposal.

The other 24 will divvy up the doses in a more solidary manner but also giving a larger share to five needy countries – Bulgaria, Croatia, Slovenia, Latvia and Estonia – than they would receive under the normal pro-rata scheme.

Czech President Andrej Babis lashed out at EU negotiators over how the distribution talks ended on Thursday.

“Solidarity exists only in statements to the media, it does not exist in negotiations behind closed doors,” Babis told the CTK news agency.

The opposition in Prague, meanwhile, accused Babis of “failure” in the EU-level negotiations and spoke of a “scandalous defeat.”