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Commission broke its lobbying rules with vaccine company call

Image: Alexandros Michailidis, via Shutterstock

President and research commissioner discussed funding with company not listed on lobby register

The president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, and the EU R&D commissioner, Mariya Gabriel, broke the institution’s lobbying transparency rules in March by communicating with a German vaccine company that was not then registered on the EU’s Transparency Register.

At the time, the company—CureVac—was at the centre of a public storm over rumours the United States was trying to acquire exclusive rights to its in-development vaccine against the Covid-19 virus.

The Commission has confirmed a video-conference involving CureVac, von der Leven (pictured), Gabriel, and European Investment Bank vice-president Ambroise Fayolle took place before the company registered in the Transparency Register, in breach of Commission rules. 

“The video-conference with CureVac took place in the context of an unprecedented crisis,” said the Commission. “The video-conference was organised on the understanding that CureVac would, as a justified exception, register subsequently in the Transparency Register. The Commission confirms that CureVac did this.”

Under Commission rules, commissioners, members of their teams and heads of departments must publish information on their meetings with organisations, and meetings relating to policymaking can only take place with representatives of organisations listed in the Transparency Register.

The Commission confirmed the breach of rules after it was first reported by the news website Politico, which said the call took place on 16 March, while CureVac listed on the Transparency Register on 17 April. Politico reported that the call had not been listed on Gabriel’s personal webpage as of 22 April, whereas it should have been listed within two weeks. It has since been added.

In addition, the Commission told Politico that von der Leyen “also exchanged [views] with other industry and business leaders in recent weeks, in the context of her work to tackle the coronavirus pandemic”, and that “all e-meetings will be put on the Transparency Register in due time”.

Research Professional News has asked the Commission how many contacts took place with organisations not listed in the Transparency Register.

On the day the call with CureVac took place, the Commission announced it had “offered up to €80 million of financial support” to the company, although this had not yet been signed off by the EIB. The bank told Research Professional News in March it was unusual for a company to be contacted with an offer of a loan, as EIB loans must usually be requested.

CureVac subsequently secured a €75 million loan from the EIB that was announced on 23 April.