Pressure Rises on Von Der Leyen, As Pfizer CEO Backs Out of Testifying to EU Parliament Covid Panel

“After von der Leyen’s silence, Bourla had the opportunity to set the record straight in the European Parliament, but he preferred to slip away. Why all these secrets? What do they have to hide from European citizens?” 

After an audit report into the European Commission’s COVID-19 vaccine procurement strategy uncovered serious procedural violations, an assortment of Big Pharma big cheeses were invited to give testimony to a European Parliament hearing. They included Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla. His testimony, scheduled for October 10, was supposed to shed light on the furtive contacts he had shared with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen during preliminary negotiations for what would eventually become the EU’s biggest vaccine contract ever (at least to date).

No Questions Answered

But as Politico reported last Thursday, Bourla has pulled out of attending the hearing, for unspecified reasons. This is the sort of thing big pharma CEOs can do these days without paying a price or even attracting negative media attention — or in this case, any mainstream media attention beyond the Politico article. It is not enough that Bourla’s company enjoys immunity from liability (except for wilful misconduct) for the billions of vaccines it produced; Bourla apparently considers himself immune from having to even defend those vaccines at potentially hostile public hearings.

As the Politico article notes, Bourla was expected to face tough questioning over the secret vaccine deals he personally struck with von der Leyen (whose triple-barrelled surname will, for the sake of time, space and convenience, hereupon be abbreviated to VdL). That is presumably something Bourla would rather avoid:

The head of the U.S. pharmaceutical giant, the largest supplier of COVID-19 vaccines to the EU, was scheduled to appear before the panel on October 10. The committee is meeting with key officials involved in the EU’s vaccine procurement process to draw lessons on how to respond to future pandemics. Other pharmaceutical executives have addressed the committee, including the CEO of Moderna and senior officials from AstraZeneca and Sanofi.

While it is true that the European Parliament does not have subpoena powers, Bourla’s backing out at the last minute is not a good look. At the very least, it reinforces the impression that Bourla and his partner in grime, VdL, have something important to hide from EU lawmakers and citizens.

Commission’s Biggest Procurement Deal Ever

One reason why this is important is that the purchase of COVID-19 vaccines for the entire 27-nation bloc was the European Commission’s biggest and most expensive procurement challenge ever, paid for entirely with public funds. And Pfizer was far and away the biggest provider of those vaccines, accounting for just over half of the 4.6 billion doses (enough for more than 10 doses per EU citizen) procured from global pharmaceutical companies.

As a result of von der Leyen’s furtive communications with Pfizer, the Commission secured its third — and by far, largest — contract with Pfizer BioNTech. That contract, signed in May 2021, allowed for the purchase of 900 million doses of the wild type vaccine and of a vaccine adapted to variants, as well as the option to purchase an additional 900 million doses. As the European Court of Auditors notes, it was “the biggest COVID-19 vaccine contract signed by the Commission and will dominate the EU’s vaccine portfolio until the end of 2023”.

Yet serious questions remain about how those vaccines were procured and under what conditions. A recent report by the Court of Auditors into the EU’s vaccine procurement strategy found that VdL had directly participated in preliminary negotiations for the vaccine contract. As Politico notes, “this was a departure from the negotiating procedure followed with other contracts, where a joint negotiating team made up of officials from the Commission and member countries conducted exploratory talks.”

Instead, von der Leyen conducted preliminary negotiations on her own, and presented the results to the steering board in April. A planned meeting of scientific advisers, organized to discuss the EU’s vaccine strategy for 2022, never took place. The VdL-headed Commission also refused to provide records of the discussions with Pfizer, either in the form of minutes, names of experts consulted, agreed terms, or other evidence.

“We asked the Commission to provide us with information on the preliminary negotiations for this agreement,” the report’s authors write. “However, none was forthcoming.”

VdL is also in hot water due to her refusal to disclose the content of her text messages with Bourla, despite repeated requests from MEPs and the EU’s ombudsman Emily O’Reilly.  When O’Reilly urged the Commission to undertake a more thorough search for the text messages in question, the Commission played for time before finally declaring that it cannot and does not need to find the text messages.

“Due to their short-lived and ephemeral nature,” text messages “in general do not contain important information relating to policies, activities and decisions of the Commission,” wrote European Vice Commissioner for Values and Transparency Vera Jourová.

What is perhaps most concerning is the glaring disregard the VdL-led Commission appears to hold even for its own basic standards of transparency and accountability. And that is entirely at odds with VdL’s public stance. In her Political Guidelines, VdL states that if “Europeans are to have faith in our Union, its institutions should be open and beyond reproach on ethics, transparency and integrity.” Yet when the Court of Auditors asked the Commission for information about the preliminary negotiations, they were snubbed.

“No information was transmitted,” the inspectors told the Berliner Morgenpost. Internally, the inspectors are stunned: “This behavior is highly unusual, it has never happened before”.

Bourla’s Replacement

A spokesperson for Pfizer told Politico that in Bourla’s stead, Janine Small, the company’s president of international development markets, would attend the committee hearing. “She has been identified as best placed to support the committee in meeting their objectives,” the spokesperson said. But Small will not be able to shed any light on Bourla’s preliminary negotiations with VdL, which presumably is why she — and not Bourla — is there.

The committee’s chair, Belgian MEP Kathleen Van Brempt, told POLITICO she “deeply regrets” the decision taken by Pfizer. Italian MEP Stefania Zambelli, who is also member of the special committee, used less diplomatic language, describing the decision as “yet another episode in a story full of dark sides”:

“After von der Leyen’s silence, Bourla had the opportunity to set the record straight in the European Parliament, but he preferred to slip away. Why all these secrets? What do they have to hide from European citizens?”

Pressure Growing

Last week, the Berliner Morgenpost reported that the pressure on VdL is growing and that her rebuff of the EU’s Court of Auditors may have been a step too far. Citing information provided to its editorial team, the newspaper noted that the “EU Parliament’s budgetary control committee is preparing a formal reprimand, the displeasure in Parliament is great, and the first MPs are calling for the European Public Prosecutor’s Office to get involved.”

The lack of transparency in the multi-billion dollar contracts has long been an issue in the EU Parliament, in part because it helps to fuel anti-vaccine sentiment, says the newspaper: “Von der Leyen’s blockade is fuelling all sorts of speculation among critics, including [allegations of] a preference for the US company Pfizer.”

At the very least, the Committee on Budgetary Control will chastise the Commission and  insist that all information relevant to the audit must always be shared with the Court of Auditors, says Monika Hohlmeier (CSU), who chairs the Committee. The spokesman for the Greens in the EU Parliament, Rasmus Andresen, is calling for total transparency:

“The Pfizer deal needs to be explained. This is about billions that have been paid out of public coffers. We all have a right to know how the deals with the vaccine manufacturers came about.”

The Berliner Morgenpost article that compiled all of these statements was published on September 27. That was two days before Bourla chickened out of giving testimony to the EU parliament. In other words, the displeasure in Parliament is, if anything, likely to have grown since then. The pressure on VdL could rise even higher in the months to come as economic conditions in the EU sharply deteriorate, largely as a result of the backfiring economic sanctions her Commission imposed on the bloc’s biggest energy provider, Russia.

It is not as if VdL was even a popular choice of European Commission President. As a standalone candidate, she needed to secure 374 votes to be elected. As Euro News noted at the time, anything less than 400 votes would be seen as “disappointing”. She was only able to muster 383. More damning still, only one in three Germans believed their former defense minister would make a good commission president.

Hand picked as a compromise candidate by Macron and Merkel after weeks of backroom deal-making and power plays, VdL arrived in Brussels already under a cloud of scandal. In what was clearly a portent of things to come, she was already accused of erasing all of the files on her mobile phone which could have been used as evidence in an inquiry into the improper awarding of government contracts during her time as Defense Minister. Months later, it was discovered that she had wiped a second phone.

Still Some Admirers

But alas, not everyone is dissatisfied with VdL’s performance at the helm of the EU’s executive branch. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which holds substantial stock in both Pfizer and BioNTech, has been so impressed with her accomplishments in the role so far that in September it awarded her its Global Goalkeepers Award. Bill Gates himself gave the presentation speech, in which he lauded VdL’s management not only of the pandemic but also the war in Ukraine (no, seriously):

“Few world leaders have devoted themselves as fully to lifting up humanity as Ursula von der Leyen. Just a few months into her tenure as president of the European Commission, the first woman to hold the office, she found herself on the frontline of a once-in-a-century health crisis. Then, as Europe began to get its hands around the pandemic, a new crisis emerged, the tragic war in Ukraine, which President Von der Leyen has been working hard to minimize the damage and bring to an end.”

It’s worth recalling that Bill Gates and his partners, including the Wellcome Trust, a British research foundation with close ties to Big Pharma, essentially used their clout at the World Health Organization and other global health bodies to effectively control the global COVID response — and what’s more, with next to no oversight, as a recent Politico and Welt investigation found. And if they are happy, VdL must be doing something right. Right?


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  1. DJG, Reality Czar

    Noting: “Instead, von der Leyen conducted preliminary negotiations on her own, and presented the results to the steering board in April.”

    This is remarkably like her trips to Kiev for photo ops with Zelenskyy after which she announces imminent accession to the EU by Ukraine, imminent NATO membership, or sixty gazillion euro flying in on pallets.

    The corruption is more than obvious. Now it is time to get rid of her.

    And wiping the phones: That is a hallmark of the Hillaryananda School of Yoga, isn’t it?

    These people can’t even be original about their various crimes.

  2. Carolinian

    She was accused of deleting a mobile phone that could have been used as evidence in an inquiry into the improper awarding of government contracts during her time as Defense Minister. Months later, it was discovered that VdL had wiped a second phone.

    Wiped, like with a cloth? Hillary is that you?

    One hesitates to make too much of the warmongering women but perhaps there is this need to overcompensate for their sex in a world where power=domination. In the same way one might have hoped that Obama would have been a lot better for African Americans. We live in a time when much is made of diversity except, curiously, at the top.

  3. YankeeFrank

    On the topic of the spike protein vaccines — I really do wonder how many of the complications from covid19, loosely covered under the term long covid, are due to or exacerbated by the vax itself. Its convenient for big pharma to just call it long covid and blame it on the virus but we have much evidence that injecting the spike protein replication machine that is the mrna vax into one’s bloodstream can itself cause many of long covid’s symptoms and disease. Willful misconduct? Provable I’d wager.

    1. Yves Smith

      Please don’t engage in patently false anti-vax fearmongering. You are already in moderation for this sort of thing. I’m feeing this comment only to scold you and inform you that comments of this sort will not be approved.

      There are enough bona fide reasons to be concerned about the vaccines but that does not justify Making Shit Up, particularly since I have also had to waste the one minute on a search engine that you should have spent:

      Vaccination against SARS-CoV-2 lowers the risk of long COVID after infection by only about 15%, according to a study of more than 13 million people1. That’s the largest cohort that has yet been used to examine how much vaccines protect against the condition, but it is unlikely to end the uncertainty.

      1. YankeeFrank

        And yet I know people who got serious long covid complications from the vax who didn’t actually contract covid. And lets pretend the vax isnt causing a spike in myocarditis and many vascular conditions as well that may also relate to long covid.

        So I guess because a study says it may help with long covid that all becomes false. I know this blog has taken certain stances on covid but that shouldn’t mean we can’t discuss our experiences.

        1. Yves Smith

          Your anecdata is flawed.

          Many get asymptomatic cases and thus don’t get tested to confirm it.

          And you are engaging in bad faith argumentation by shifting the grounds of argument and not acknowledging it.

          1. YankeeFrank

            I find your response to my question a bit mystifying — after all it was a question, not a statement. And I’m not trying to argue in bad faith or shifting grounds: I posed the original question based on my anecdotal experience. I didn’t make that clear in my original comment so I guess fair enough but I found your initial response a bit hurtful — I wasn’t just posing it to be provocative or further vax misinformation, if that’s a category that has much meaning in this information environment. To that point, I have all but given up on studies such as the one you cite given all the evidence of a tsunami of poor design, poor replicability, flawed statistics and perhaps the worst: corruption of the scientific process by moneyed interests. Anecdotes are what I’m left with.

            You can dismiss my anecdata but someone who got the vax and within a few days developed severe symptoms very similar to long covid that lasted over a year is not something you can simply chalk up to asymptomatic covid. With all the horror stories surrounding the vax (some of which are scare stories but many are not) I’m just not clear on why this particular idea is out of bounds.

            1. Yves Smith

              People are not getting tested before they get vaccinated. They could well have had Covid or had it very recently when they were vaccinated. People should get vaccinated ONLY >90 days after a Covid case. See:

              Estimates of asymptomatic disease rates with COVID-19 — the proportion who are infected but never manifest symptoms — have ranged from about 25% to 40% throughout the pandemic, with a number of papers, including one in the Annals of Internal Medicine, coming in at about a third of cases.


              Those papers were based on pre-Omicron data. This and other articles point out that with Omicron being “mild.” it’s reasonable to assume the level of asymptomatic cases is higher than for wild type and Delta.

    2. Basil Pesto

      I really do wonder how many of the complications from covid19, loosely covered under the term long covid, are due to or exacerbated by the vax itself. Its convenient for big pharma to just call it long covid and blame it on the virus

      Very small I’d say, going by circumstantial evidence, which is all we’re bothering to use. Recall that Long Covid was not a term created by big pharma but by patient advocates after the devastating waves of early 2020 (and was a phenomenon that was also readily inferred on the basis of the experiences of the main SARS1 patient cohorts in Canada and China in 2002-03; namely, chronic illness that got worse, not better, over time), long before the mass vaccination campaign – itself of fairly limited duration – and which, yes, obviously did cause vaccine injury/adverse evebts, but as Yves points out this is seriously confounded with abysmal control of the disease at the time the campaign was being undertaken in USA. I’ve mentioned this before in the context of comparing this with the vaccine campaign in erstwhile ZeroCovid countries where the virus was mostly contained while the vaccination campaign was underway, like Australia – I don’t trust Australia’s data (or anyone’s) unequivocally, but I have a lot more trust in it than, say, American VAERS data and it has shown that while the safety of the vaccines is hardly perfect, they’re not anywhere near as disastrous as the doomiest proclamations of vaccine carnage Stateside. Again, and I’ve said this for a while, SARS2 being ubiquitous at the time of the vaccination campaign in the US is a big confounder for the question of vaccine safety claims in that jurisdiction, and Covid itself was highly politicised in the US, even among MDs, from the very beginning (it’s mild; it’s only a problem for old people; children can’t catch or spread or get sick from it, etc and so on) which is another reason I treat the VAERS data there with a pinch of salt.

      Likewise, in the context of the lack of messaging about the true nature of Covid as a disease and the attendant information vacuum, we’re seeing a lot of charlatans, minimisers, anti-vaxers etc. immediately seeking to blame the large uptick in anecdata of sudden deaths from heart attack and stroke in relatively young people on the vaccines – without presenting much in the way of a plausible mechanism – rather than the virus with a proven capacity to cause deaths of this sort, and with demonstrated mechanisms for doing it. Again, Australia was heavily vaccinated last year from about March to December, but our excess death uptick this year – going by actuarial data – only occurred with the full implemention of the Let It Rip policy (which only happened after the vaccine lockdown of late ‘21 in three states) as well as Omicron’s arrival.

      So “maybe all the bad stuff happening is because of the vaccines” is an extremely weak suggestion, imo. It’s the virus. We’ve really fucked up.

  4. Paua Fritter

    I’m just speculating, but Bourla’s cancellation may have something to do with the fact he picked up a SARS-CoV2 infection just a week ago.

    1. Nick Corbishley Post author

      It was ten days ago (Sept. 24), to be precise. At least that was when it was announced to the press. And Bourla’s appointment with the European Parliament’s investigative committee was scheduled for Oct. 10, in six days’ time. But you’re right, Bourla may still have or still be recovering from COVID at that time. But if that was his guiding concern he would surely have postponed his testimony rather than cancel it and have Pfizer offer up someone else in his place. Given the importance of his testimony, I imagine the committee would have been prepared to wait a week or two longer.

      1. Skip Intro

        So, perfect timing to deliver a Paxlovid Rebound™ infection to those pesky parliamentarians!

    2. Jeff

      It also could have something to do with Bourla’s incessant lying. Stock price >customer long term health.

  5. Cristobal

    Úrsula vdl certainly has managed to project a good image. The typical foto I see in the papers here show her looking serene with a backdrop of blue and a halo of the EU stars around her head. La Santísima Virgen de Bruselas!

    1. Bugs

      She’s lately been wearing crazy electric blue and yellow outfits to flatter her UKR “friends” as well. She looks like a human IKEA storefront. Why nobody in the Member States does something about Her Madness is beyond me.

      1. flora

        All I know for sure is that a lot of govts’ treasuries are being drained for a “good cause” …ahem.

  6. Mike

    VdL seems to be making a habit of using text messages for sensitive information. Between this and the immediate threat from Russia mishandlings, is there benefit to a countries standing in the EU anymore? Are we going to see a renewed interest in more Brexit style referendums in the EU?

    “Bill Gates and his partners, including the Wellcome Trust, a British research foundation with close ties to Big Pharma”

    The Gates foundation doesn’t have close ties, it IS big Pharma. They have absolutely global reach on all things vaccine from research efforts, public messaging, biosecurity (aadhaar, vaccine passports and more) lobbying etc. They have dedicated billions to the effort and are successful it seems.

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