Draft of the joint statement of the bilateral summit with the US, scheduled for Tuesday, supports the need to continue questioning after the first WHO report that suffered interference from Beijing.
The European Union appears to share the United States' doubts about the origin of the covid-19 pandemic. The community club is in favor of following Washington's request for a new investigation, after the first, carried out in China by experts from the World Health Organization (WHO), dismissed as "extremely improbable" the thesis that the SARS-CoV2 coronavirus has escaped from a laboratory in the city of Wuhan. The EU's support for continuing the investigation into the origin of the pandemic is contained in the joint EU-US summit statement draft scheduled for next Tuesday.
"We call for progress in phase 2 of a study on the origin of covid-19 that is transparent, evidence-based, led by WHO experts, and free from interference," says the introductory text of the pandemic statement, which this newspaper had access. The declaration was revised on Wednesday by the permanent representatives of the 27 EU countries in Brussels. It could still change before the summit, but it already indicates that at least a good part of the delegations share the doubts about the first WHO study and supports the US request to continue investigating. The EU's alignment with Washington could further sour relations with China, looking with disgust at growing Western suspicions that the deadly virus has emerged from one of its laboratories.
The first accusations against Beijing emerged during Donald Trump's presidency. Still, they were attributed to speculative theories marked by an anti-Chinese bias. The doubts propagated by Trump himself caused severe friction between Washington and Beijing. They accused each other of being behind the origin of the pandemic.
The WHO finally launched an investigation, and in January of this year, 14 international experts arrived in Wuhan. In this first Chinese city, the disease was detected. The study ended in February without finding the origin of the coronavirus but supporting the hypothesis that the pathogen would have passed directly from an animal to a human being.
The WHO report seemed to resolve the controversy. But the debate was reopened in mid-May. When a group of scientists from prestigious US universities such as Harvard, Stanford, and Yale publicly defended the need to "seriously" review the possibility that the virus had emerged by accident. In a laboratory.
US President Joe Biden joined the cause almost immediately. And he considered that, as long as there is no conclusive evidence in one sense or the other, both theories must be taken as "two probable scenarios." Biden also asked his intelligence services to provide him with the most decisive study they could in 90 days.
Until now, Europe had been quietly in the background in this conflict, which seemed to reflect in part the continuing tension between the United States and China, the two great powers that vie for world dominance in numerous areas. Trump's presence in the White House exacerbated this tension, which, however, neither began with him nor ended with his departure. Biden's Democratic Administration, like Barack Obama's previous one, sees China as the true geostrategic rival of the 21st century, with a role similar to that played by the USSR during the Cold War of the last century.
The EU does not share the spirit of total confrontation with Beijing and prefers to keep all avenues of cooperation open as much as possible. But in the case of the virus, some experts believe that China itself contributed to fuel international distrust by excessively limiting the investigative capacity of the WHO team.
Brussels is also seeking to ingratiate itself as much as possible with the new US government. Tuesday's meeting in Brussels will be the first bilateral summit between community officials and the current US president. Biden meets with Council of Europe President Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen just five months after their arrival at the White House. The meeting is interpreted as confirming a new era in transatlantic relations after four stormy years with Donald Trump.
The Republican's departure did not mark the end of all the discrepancies between Brussels and Washington. But both sides are seeking to bring positions closer together wherever possible, as a sign that they have turned the page of the Trump era and that the United States and the EU are willing to jointly lead the way back to a multilateralism that passes through the effectiveness of bodies such as the WHO.
Despite the renewed good harmony, Biden will clash with his European hosts on the subject of intellectual property of vaccines against covid-19 developed by companies on both sides of the Atlantic. The United States defends in the World Trade Organization (WTO) the release of patents to facilitate their production on a global scale. The EU, on the other hand, is willing to study the proposal, which has yet to be implemented, but counterattacks with an alternative.
Michel and Von der Leyen defend that the priority is to facilitate exports, as has been done by the European bloc, which allowed 50% of the 600 million doses that the continent produced to export to other countries. On the other hand, Biden maintains the lock installed by Trump on exports to guarantee the doses necessary to immunize the American population first. As for covid-19, Trump's America First is still in effect.
Community leaders also advocate accelerating the mandatory licensing system under WTO rules to force pharmaceutical companies to authorize other companies to manufacture their vaccines and accept production at cost or with a minimal profit margin.
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