European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen held a videoconference with German biotechnology company CureVac in March without following the proper rules for Commission officials meeting with industry organizations.
The March 16 virtual meeting took place amid uproar over reports that U.S. President Donald Trump tried to woo CureVac to the U.S. and win exclusive rights to its experimental coronavirus vaccine for Americans. Later that day, the Commission announced it would back an €80 million loan from the European Investment Bank for CureVac “to scale up development and production of a vaccine against the coronavirus in Europe.” (CureVac officials and the White House denied the allegations.)
The videoconference was organized “on the understanding that CureVac would, as a justified exception, register subsequently in the Transparency Register,” said a Commission spokesperson — a status that the Commission’s own rules require of organizations before they are allowed to meet with top officials.
At the time of the March 16 meeting, CureVac was not registered. CureVac only registered in the EU’s Transparency Register on April 17, a month after the meeting took place. “The Commission confirms that CureVac did this,” said the spokesperson.
The Commission also confirmed that European Investment Bank Vice-President Ambroise Fayolle took part in the meeting, as did Commissioner Mariya Gabriel, though the meeting had yet to appear as of Wednesday on Gabriel’s website. The list of meetings is supposed to be updated within two weeks of it taking place.
The meeting took place “in the context of an unprecedented crisis,” the Commission spokesperson said.
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The CureVac meeting was the only meeting von der Leyen lists in March and April with outside interest representatives, as of Wednesday.
The spokesperson confirmed that the president “also exchanged [views] with other industry and business leaders in recent weeks, in the context of her work to tackle the coronavirus pandemic. All e-meetings will be put on the Transparency Register in due time.”
CureVac previously received EU support in 2014: a grant of €2 million from the Commission’s Framework 7 research and innovation program.
Sarah Wheaton contributed reporting.