The European Ombudsman has demanded that Commission President Ursula von der Leyen explain how she lost the text messages she exchanged with Pfizer’s chief executive during talks on vaccine procurement.
European Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly, the EU’s top accountability and governance official, launched an investigation into the European Commission’s refusal to hand over the content of communications between von der Leyen and an initially unidentified pharmaceutical company CEO over a Covid-19 vaccine contract.
As a first step, O’Reilly asked the Commission to explain its policy on keeping records of von der Leyen’s text messages. “The Commission is required to record instant messages related to important policy or political issues, such as the procurement of Covid-19 vaccines,” O’Reilly’s office wrote. O’Reilly’s office wrote in a statement about the case.
In April, the New York Times reported that von der Leyen had been exchanging text messages and calls with Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla for a month as part of negotiations over vaccine procurement for the European bloc. The newspaper wrote at the time that personal diplomacy played an important role in securing the vaccine deal.
O’Reilly requested that the Commission hand over the text messages, but the Commission said “no record of those messages had been kept”, according to the ombudsman’s office.
The office previously warned of the importance of record-keeping within EU institutions amid increased remote working in the Covid era. “The EU administration is obliged by EU law to draw up and keep documentation relating to its activities, as far as possible and in a non-arbitrary and predictable manner,” the watchdog said in June.