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The European Commission has lost a legal bid to force AstraZeneca to speed up delivery of COVID-19 vaccines or risk billions of euros in fines. In a ruling on Friday, judges in Brussels criticised the Ango-Swedish company for a “serious breach” of its contract with the EU after repeated shortfalls but refused to impose the new schedule demanded by Brussels that would have seen the company deliver 120m doses by the end of June or pay fines of €10 (£8.5) per dose per day. The court ruled that AstraZeneca should provide 80 million doses by September 24 but in practice this should have no impact on the company, which has already delivered 70 million doses and plans to provide the remaining 10 million before the end of this month.
The Commission insisted the court judgment would nonetheless put pressure on AstraZeneca because it had “laid the tracks for the delivery of future doses on the basis of clear contractual principles".
The Commission added: “The company will have to follow these tracks and it can no longer argue that it cannot use the UK plants for the production of vaccines for the European Union."
The executive vice-president of AstraZeneca, Jeffrey Pott, said in a statement: “We are pleased with the Court’s order.
“AstraZeneca has fully complied with its agreement with the European Commission and we will continue to focus on the urgent task of supplying an effective vaccine.”
EU 'incompetence' brought into open with jab contract before judges give AZ partial win
President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen
The dispute between the European Commission and AstraZeneca has damaged the company’s standing on the continent and in February spiralled into a diplomatic row, which saw Brussels publish a heavily redacted version of the company’s contract.
Despite the bloc welcoming the "transparency" of the document, many paragraphs of the contract were redacted with thick black lines blocking text underneath.
However, some blanked out sections could still be viewed in the bookmarks bar on the left of the pages.
Those disclosures revealed the contract was worth €870million (£760m).
It also gave a breakdown of what is covered under the "costs of goods".
Other vital information, like the estimated delivery schedule, however, remained blacked out.
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Italian MEP Antonio Rinaldi
EU Commission spokesperson Eric Mamer admitted: "Well, clearly we published a version with sections that were redacted and through technical means that were not our means, certain parts that were redacted were visible."
Italian MEP Antonio Maria Rinaldi told Express.co.uk, this blunder was proof of the level of "ineptitude" of the European Union.
He said: "This is a paradox that will hopefully make people understand how European bureaucracy works.
"Von der Leyen could not help herself and published the contracts, with lots of omitted parts.
"But actually, large parts of the redacted content could be revealed simply by using the bookmark tool [in Adobe Acrobat's Reader].
"They had forgotten to clear the margins. How stupid is that?
"They realised after twenty minutes but it was too late."
Mr Rinaldi noted: "This should show the level of incompetence that lives within the EU."
This was not the only blunder the EU made that month.
After the publication of the contracts, the row escalated further as Brussels said it would be triggering an emergency provision in the Brexit deal to control COVID-19 vaccine exports, including the possible introduction of checks at the border of Ireland and Northern Ireland to prevent shipments entering the UK.
After fierce condemnation from London, Belfast, and Dublin, the EU performed a swift U-turn.
However, according to Prime Minister Boris Johnson's trade adviser Shanker Singham the "damage was done" and the trust between Ireland and Brussels "eroded".
Mr Singham told Express.co.uk: "It was a spectacular blunder.
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Trade adviser Shanker Singham
"It is quite hard to imagine doing anything worse than this.
"And the speed, in which they said they can under certain circumstances put a border on the island without consulting anyone.
"Well, it has without a doubt affected their relationship with Ireland significantly."
The trade expert added: "The Irish government must be highly suspicious of anything the EU is doing or saying now.
"Because if I were them, I wouldn't think the EU has necessarily my best interests at heart.
"Obviously, the EU has 27 member states with their own interests... so the notion that they would privilege the Irish has never made much sense.
"But it has now made the Irish understand they are not a priority in respect to the EU."