Just as many member states are facing a third wave of coronavirus and ways to improve public health.
EU official Ursula von der Leyen threatened on Saturday to suspend the export of AstraZeneca's Covid-19 vaccine if the landmark did not receive its promised delivery first, raising the line that fueled international disputes.
“We have the option to block scheduled exports. That is the message to AstraZeneca: you fulfill your contract with Europe first before you start exporting, ”von der Leyen told German news agency Funke.
This warning comes at a time when the European Union is struggling to speed up its transmission campaign, just as many member states are facing a third wave of coronavirus and ways to improve public health.
Von der Leyen said Anglo-Swedish giant AstraZeneca had delivered only 30 percent of the 90 million vaccine doses it had promised in the first quarter of the year.
The company has blamed product delays on its EU crops, but European officials are angry that AstraZeneca was able to deliver on its UK contract when it fell short of the continent.
European Commission President von der Leyen on Wednesday had already threatened to use emergency power to prevent European countries from sending Covid-19 drugs to ensure "retaliation" with other providers.
- Call for revenge -
In an interview with German newspapers, von der Leyen also stated that the EU contract with AstraZeneca states that the drugs made for this landmark will be produced on both EU and UK plants.
"But we have not received anything from the Brits, even though we have brought them to them," he said, adding that the European Commission had sent an "official letter" to the complaining company.
EU-based manufacturers have sent 41 million doses of vaccine to 33 countries since the beginning of February, says von der Leyen, making the vaccine one of the largest exports of Covid-19 vaccines.
"I can't explain to European citizens why we are exporting millions of vaccines to countries that produce the vaccines themselves and do not give us anything back," said von der Leyen.
French Foreign Minister Clement Beaune received a strong message from Brussels.
"We need a policy of retaliation: to provide for others if they provide it in accordance with signed contracts," he told AFP. Europe must "protect its interests", he added.
- Example Italy -
The EU has already established special export controls where manufacturers with contracts to supply Europe must indicate that they intend to export prices outside the bloc.
Many EU concerns are more than in Britain, where the vaccination campaign has developed at a rapid pace.
Brussels has accused London of using an antitrust law to achieve its vaccination success, a claim that has been angrily denied by Prime Minister Boris Johnson's government.
The EU export ban procedure must first be created in a single member state and approved by the European Commission before it can be enforced.
The machine has so far been used only once, when Italy blocked a 250,000-capacity transmission to AstraZeneca in Australia, citing "ongoing shortages" and "delays in availability".
Not all EU members support the ban on exports, which could upset international supply options. Belgium and the Netherlands have called for caution.
The EU's troubled relations with AstraZeneca were further affected earlier this month when many countries suspended the use of its vaccine for fear of creating blood clots.
The European Medicines' Agency (EMA) on Thursday announced that the jab was "safe and effective" and that vaccines had resumed in some countries.
French Prime Minister Jean Castex received his first AstraZeneca vaccine on Friday, as did British Prime Minister Johnson.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi said they would take the AstraZeneca vaccine if they offered it, with the ai