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Switzerland mulls future European coordination on medical supplies

Parmelin, pictured with French finance minister Bruno Le Maire in Bern earlier this week. Keystone / Marcel Bieri

Switzerland, along with its European neighbours, could develop an industrial strategy to reduce its dependence on other markets for essential medical goods, President Guy Parmelin has said.

This content was published on April 4, 2021 - 14:09
SonntagsZeitung/dos

“The pandemic has shown us that we are very dependent, maybe too much so, on other markets. This applies not only to a pandemic and vaccines, but also to other medical goods, antibiotics for example, or other basic supply areas like energy,” Parmelin told the SonntagsZeitung newspaper.

At the same time, it’s not possible to imagine Switzerland producing all of its needs in these areas on its own. Coordination and open market conditions in Europe – or “at least with neighbouring countries” – is needed, Parmelin said.

The president (who is also the current economics minister) added that he had already discussed such an idea with counterparts from France and Germany. They are open to the idea of coordinated action to develop, for example, a future Europe-wide vaccine industry, he said.

On this front, Switzerland would be “well placed” to play a key role, Parmelin added, presumably referring to the many pharmaceutical companies in the country. But it’s yet too early to say if this role would be as an investor or partner.

Lonza row

In the interview published Sunday, which mainly focussed on the pandemic, Parmelin also backed his government colleague Alain Berset, who has been criticised for reportedly turning down an offer by pharma company Lonza to produce vaccines domestically.

Newspapers from the Tamedia group last month claimed that in spring 2020, Health Minister Berset missed the chance to secure a Swiss-based vaccine production line via Lonza, who produces a component of the Moderna vaccine in its canton Valais plant.

Berset has since said there was no clear connection between investing in Lonza and securing access to the Moderna vaccine – an argument repeated by Parmelin on Sunday.

“A production line exclusively for Switzerland was, according to our information, never an issue. Since the vaccine is not fully produced in Visp [the site of Lonza’s Swiss plant], we would in any case always have to deal with Moderna for the final product […] Moderna maintains the rights over this,” Parmelin said.

Earlier this week, a parliamentary commission said it planned to investigate the communications between federal authorities and Lonza last spring, in an attempt to bring clarity to the matter. It’s not known when their findings will be published.

EU blockage

Parmelin also told the SonntagsZeitung that the country’s vaccination campaign was advancing well in comparison to most other European nations, and that Switzerland had “chosen the right vaccines and negotiated good deals”.

As of Wednesday this week, just over half a million Swiss residents were fully vaccinated, around 6.2% of the population.

But according to a separate story on Sunday in the SonntagsBlick newspaper, Switzerland also this week found itself in a dispute with the European Union (EU), which removed the Alpine nation from a list of countries which could import vaccines from the bloc without a special licence.

The newspaper writes that Switzerland, along with 16 other nations, has fallen victim to the EU’s new harder stance on exporting vaccines. The export rules, while not foreseeing full-on bans, state that controls can be put in place for countries who want to import vaccines but who don’t export or reciprocate; or if the country has a much higher vaccination rate than the EU.

According to the SonntagsBlick, Swiss State Secretary Livia Leu met with the EU Ambassador to Bern during the week, asking for Switzerland to be regranted its exception.

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