On January 15 2022, the chairman of the far-left party PVDA Raoul Hedebouw joined Conner Rousseau, chairman of left-wing party Vooruit, in an interview with De Morgen to discuss the possibility of releasing the Covid-vaccine patents. During this interview Hedebouw claimed that “of all European countries, Belgium blocks the waiver to release Covid-vaccine patents for the third world the most.” This statement turns out to be false.
In Belgium, PVDA-PTB is an extreme left-wing party that is currently in the opposition to the federal government. The party is a strong advocate to the TRIPS waiver that was proposed by India and South Africa a year ago to temporarily release covid-vaccine patents for third world countries. It has made several proposals to lift the patents and wants the Belgian government to finally make a clear statement on their position.
No hard evidence
We spoke to Sofie Merckx, member of PVDA and a member of the Belgian House of Representatives. She has designated herself the advocate of releasing the Covid-vaccine patents. In our interview, we confronted her with Hedebouw’s statement about Belgium’s role in the debate. He claimed that Belgium is the country that blocks the proposal to lift the vaccine patents the most. Merckx admitted that this is mainly an interpretation of mr. Hedebouw, not an actual fact: “There is no hard evidence that Belgium is one of the biggest counterparts.”
Sofie Merckx submitted a resolution in the Health Committee of the Federal Parliament on December 20, 2021 to release the Covid-vaccine patents. In fact, she submitted the resolution several times in the last years, but it never got through. There are some parties in Belgium who support the idea of releasing the vaccine patents and some parties that don’t, but to this day the federal government of Belgium has not yet made its final decision whether it is against or for the patent waiver. Ms Merckx said that PVDA requested that Belgium positions itself separately from the European Commission in order to give its own view on the matter. However, to this day this hasn’t happened yet.
Belgium’s vote isn’t decisive
Vicky Marissen, expert on the European Union and currently affiliated to consultancy agency EPPA, explained in an interview why Belgium isn’t really the country that blocks the patent waiver the most. “The European Parliament can only vote on a resolution, it cannot make any decisions. When they pass a certain resolution, it does put extra pressure on the European Commission to actually vote on the matter.”
Marissen explains that this hasn’t happened yet, because at the moment too many EU members are opposed to the idea. “Before voting on a resolution, the European Commission always consults the members of the European Union to see if the proposal has any chance of success. In this case, there are quite a lot of countries who are in favour of the idea, but there are also a lot of opponents. Because of this, they are convinced that the bill wouldn’t pass, so they haven’t proposed the idea yet to the European Council.”
“Therefore”, Marissen explains, “we can’t really know for sure which countries are opposed and which aren’t, because they haven’t had to cast their vote yet. In the case of Belgium, this means that they have not yet spoken out publicly. It also means that you cannot say that Belgium blocks the proposal the most.” She adds: “The European Union consists of 27 member states who all get a vote. If Belgium decides to vote against or in favour of the waiver, it doesn’t necessarily mean it will or won’t get approved. Belgium is a fairly small country, its vote isn’t as decisive as Germany’s vote for example.”
The European Commission has not yet proposed the resolution to the European Council. While the European Parliament has already voted on the resolution, this is mostly symbolic and isn’t decisive. If or when the European Commission decides to propose the resolution to the European Council, 27 countries get to vote. Belgium is a fairly small country, so it doesn’t have the power to block the patent waiver. Therefore, it doesn’t have the deciding vote and cannot block the resolution the most. Furthermore, Belgium has yet to make a final decision whether it is in favour or against the patent waiver. In conclusion, Raoul Hedebouw’s claim has turned out to be false.
RESEARCH | ARTICLE © Fraukje Caljon, Mara Claes and Fleur Iven, AP University College, Antwerp, Belgium
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