Ursula von der Leyen refuses to publish messages with Pfizer boss

Ursula von der Leyen Commissioner

An official EU watchdog has slammed Ursula von der Leyen for keeping secret text messages with Pfizer's CEO about purchasing Covid vaccine doses, saying it 'constituted maladministration'.

The commission’s president publicly admitted that she repeatedly texted Albert Bourla, the head of the pharmaceutical giant, about the deal in April last year as negotiations peaked amid new lockdowns and pressure for the EU to speed up vaccinations.

The EU ombudsman, Emily O'Reilly, issued a formal recommendation telling von der Leyen's office to search for and hand over the texts under a freedom of information request lodged by a journalist.

In April last year, the New York Times revealed that EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla had exchanged text messages and calls about vaccine procurements for EU countries.

The European Commission chief used 'personal diplomacy' to secure the deal for 1.8billion Pfizer vaccines via texts with the CEO, the paper revealed. 

Journalist Alexander Fanta of news site netzpolitik.org then asked the Commission for access to the text messages and other documents, but the executive branch did not provide them.

The commission rebuffed the freedom-of-information request, refusing to say whether the texts existed - even though von der Leyen had referred to them herself in a media interview. 

According to the ombudsman's inquiry, the Commission did not clearly ask von der Leyen's cabinet to look for the text messages.

Instead, the Commission said the only information they had was an email, a letter and a press release. 

'This falls short of reasonable expectations of transparency and administrative standards in the Commission,' O'Reilly said. 

The ombudsman said the commission should ask von der Leyen's office to again look for the texts, and if it found them, "the Commission should assess whether public access can be granted to them" in line with EU rules.