PARIS — France played a central role in the EU-led effort that raised €7.4 billion in pledges for the global fight against coronavirus — but it has yet to detail how it’s sourcing or allocating its own contribution.
At the conference on Monday, President Emmanuel Macron announced France will commit €500 million to the Access to Covid-19 Tools Accelerator, an international collaboration intended to speed up the development and production of new vaccines, tests and treatments.
But four days later, neither Macron’s office nor the ministries involved (including health and budget) have been able to tell POLITICO where the money is coming from, or how it’ll be allocated.
On Friday, a French official familiar with the internal conversations among ministries told POLITICO that “who pays is still under discussion” but most of the funds would be new money.
The lack of clarity reflects the ambiguous nature of the totals announced at such headline-grabbing pledging conferences. It also gives fodder to critics who say the event’s goals were rather nebulous, with significant differences between what various donors pledged and what constitutes new money.
Norway’s Prime Minister Erna Solberg, meanwhile, clearly earmarked the bulk of her country’s pledge to vaccine development and distribution.
The EU, which hosted the event, pledged €1.4 billion, but officials acknowledged that this sum is entirely repurposed money from elsewhere in the bloc’s budget, along with €400 million in loan guarantees.
The €7.4 billion total also includes money put toward the coronavirus response since January 30 — and the Commission wasn’t eager to break down the total into new and old donations when asked by reporters this week.
A Commission spokesperson said it didn’t want to “punish” countries for allocating money earlier than the pledging conference. “We’re not asking the countries to explain what is new and what is not new,” the spokesperson said Thursday.
Most of the event’s other donors were national governments, which have strict budget rules as well as tender requirements and other restrictions on how public funds are spent. When faced with the hasty organization of the conference, they were pushed to make symbolic “pledges” before all the legal and administrative details had been worked out.
Macron has played a central role in championing a multilateral response — making a public show of support to the World Health Organization (WHO) when it has come under fire from Washington. He is also facing rising criticism at home for the domestic response to the pandemic, which has taken more than 25,000 lives.
As Macron explained it, France’s contribution would be composed of four parts, the first being a “substantial” increase in funding to the WHO over the next two years, up from $76 million for 2018 and 2019. The problem: To date, no one within the French government has been able to provide the new number.
There are also few details on the other three pillars: Accelerating the research and development of a coronavirus vaccine; ensuring equitable access to diagnostics and treatment; and supporting health care systems in vulnerable countries, namely in Africa.
By contrast, some other donors have gone farther to explain their pledges.
For example, the independent London-based charity Wellcome Trust announced that in addition to an early pledge of $100 million to vaccines alliance CEPI, it will give another $50 million to a Therapeutics Accelerator, plus $26 million to support essential research and capacity building in low and middle-income countries.
Norway’s Prime Minister Erna Solberg, meanwhile, clearly earmarked the bulk of her country’s pledge to vaccine development and distribution, as well as an additional small contribution to the WHO.
When pressed about the lack of concrete details, French officials highlighted the fact that Monday’s event brought about an unprecedented coordination and cooperation between the WHO, governments and NGOs in the global response to the coronavirus pandemic.
David M. Herszenhorn, Jillian Deutsch and Lili Bayer contributed reporting.
This article is part of POLITICO’s premium policy service: Pro Health Care. From drug pricing, EMA, vaccines, pharma and more, our specialized journalists keep you on top of the topics driving the health care policy agenda. Email [email protected] for a complimentary trial.