European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen addresses a press conference after a visit to oversee the production of the Pfizer-BioNtech Covid-19 vaccine at the factory of US pharmaceutical company Pfizer in Puurs, Belgium, 23 April 2021. EPA-EFE/JOHN THYS


European Ombudsman ‘amazed’ by media ‘leniency’ on von der Leyen Pfizer texts


European Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly said she is “amazed” at how “such a prominent figure as [European Commission President Ursula] von der Leyen isn’t questioned harder on her missing Pfizer texts”.

O’Reilly has been pestering von der Leyen about the texts between her and Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla.

The EC has been chastised for the “exorbitant” pricing negotiated for the mRNA COVID vaccinations. The Ombudsman accused the executive of “maladministration” in January 2022.

Her latest comment came on November 29 at a yearly media event held by SEC Newgate, a strategic communications consultancy. O’Reilly wondered why journalists were not holding the EC more to account.

The New York Times first revealed von der Leyen had exchanged phone calls and texts with Bourla.

When a request for access to those messages was made, the EC stated that it had “no record” of them. Text messages, it claimed, are often “short-lived” and, as such, are not subject to its record-keeping requirements.

That led to the New York Times filing charges against von der Leyen, arguing that the EC faced a legal obligation to release the messages.

O’Reilly heard journalists complain about the von der Leyen’s alleged strategy of “stonewalling” the media.

The apparently controlling nature of the EC President had already led journalists to decline to travel with her when she was trying to set up her own press pool. Media professionals have claimed she is “too boring” to spend travel time with.

Von der Leyen gave an on-stage interview with Politico‘s editor-in-chief Jamil Anderlini on November 28 at a gala dinner. There, she was not quizzed about the so-called “Pfizergate scandal”.

The EC President is generally known for preferring to avoid press conferences. “Even Putin does it,” one journalist at the event said, adding: “We haven’t had a free-form press conference with the European Commission President except for the summits.”

Another said that at sit-down interviews, “She doesn’t say anything, like a lot of politicians. Nothing was agreed beforehand, she doesn’t need to, because she doesn’t say anything expansive and out of your lane.”

A third said the EC was using the institution’s press service as a shield to block off difficult questions.

The journalists collectively seemed to believe it might be better to get rid of EC spokespeople altogether.