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EUROPEAN UNION

EU warns it could block more vaccine exports

European Commission chief says Italy's decision to block an export to Australia last week was "not a one-off"

EU warns it could block more vaccine exports
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen expects supply of coronavirus vaccines to increase in April. (Photo by Francisco Seco/AFP

EU chief Ursula von der Leyen warned on Monday that the bloc could halt further exports of the coronavirus vaccine, after Italy stopped a shipment to Australia.

“That was not a one-off,” the president of the European Commission told business newspaper Wirtschaftswoche.

Italy last week revealed it had blocked the export of 250,700 doses of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine meant for Australia, blaming the shortage of jabs in virus-hit Europe — and the lack of urgent need in Australia.

Defending Italy’s action, von der Leyen said AstraZeneca had delivered less than 10 percent of the volumes that the bloc had ordered for December to March.

The European Commission has criticised the Anglo-Swedish company for failing to fulfil its delivery schedule to the EU, even as it supplied full doses to Britain.

Under the EU scheme, a company wanting to export outside the bloc needs to apply for permission to the national government, which decides after consulting the commission.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert last week stressed the EU was supplying vaccines to the whole world — unlike countries such as the United States.

“We stand by this European approach, which differs from the American approach when it comes to production, for instance,” Seibert said.

100 million doses vow

As criticism rises within the 27-nation bloc over its stuttering rollout, the commission is battling to secure doses to get the pace of vaccinations back on track.

Von der Leyen said in a separate interview with Stuttgarter Nachrichten newspaper that she expected the bloc to receive 100 million doses every month from April, thanks both to higher delivery volumes and the regulatory approval of more vaccines.

The EU would receive “in the second quarter an average of around 100 million doses a month, in total 300 million by end June”, she said. 

By February 26, the bloc with a population of 446 million people had received 51.5 million doses, according to official EU data.

The bloc has already approved three vaccines — BioNTech/Pfizer, AstraZeneca/Oxford and Moderna — and the European Medicines Agency is due to decide on Thursday on the Johnson & Johnson single-shot jab.

The regulator last week began a rolling review of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine.

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TECH

‘A great day for consumers in Europe’: EU votes for single smartphone charger

The EU parliament on Tuesday passed a new law requiring USB-C to be the single charger standard for all new smartphones, tablets and cameras from late 2024 in a move that was heralded a "great day for consumers".

'A great day for consumers in Europe': EU votes for single smartphone charger

The measure, which EU lawmakers adopted with a vote 602 in favour, 13 against, will – in Europe at least – push Apple to drop its outdated Lightning port on its iPhones for the USB-C one already used by many of its competitors.

Makers of laptops will have extra time, from early 2026, to also follow suit.

EU policymakers say the single charger rule will simplify the life of Europeans, reduce the mountain of obsolete chargers and reduce costs for consumers.

It is expected to save at least 200 million euros ($195 million) per year and cut more than a thousand tonnes of EU electronic waste every year, the bloc’s competition chief Margrethe Vestager said.

The EU move is expected to ripple around the world.

The European Union’s 27 countries are home to 450 million people who count among the world’s wealthiest consumers. Regulatory changes in the bloc often set global industry norms in what is known as the Brussels Effect.

“Today is a great day for consumers, a great day  for our environment,” Maltese MEP Alex Agius Saliba, the European Parliament’s pointman on the issue, said.

“After more than a decade; the single charger for multiple electronic devices will finally become a reality for Europe and hopefully we can also inspire the rest of the world,” he said.

Faster data speed

Apple, the world’s second-biggest seller of smartphones after Samsung, already uses USB-C charging ports on its iPads and laptops.

But it resisted EU legislation to force a change away from its Lightning ports on its iPhones, saying that was disproportionate and would stifle innovation.

However some users of its latest flagship iPhone models — which can capture extremely high-resolution photos and videos in massive data files — complain that the Lightning cable transfers data at only a bare fraction of the speed USB-C does.

The EU law will in two years’ time apply to all handheld mobile phones, tablets, digital cameras, headphones, headsets, portable speakers, handheld videogame consoles, e-readers, earbuds, keyboards, mice and portable navigation systems.

People buying a device will have the choice of getting one with or without a USB-C charger, to take advantage of the fact they might already have at least one cable at home.

Makers of electronic consumer items in Europe agreed a single charging norm from dozens on the market a decade ago under a voluntary agreement with the European Commission.

But Apple refused to abide by it, and other manufacturers kept their alternative cables going, meaning there are still some six types knocking  around.

They include old-style USB-A, mini-USB and USB-micro, creating a jumble of cables for consumers.

USB-C ports can charge at up to 100 Watts, transfer data up to 40 gigabits per second, and can serve to hook up to external displays.

Apple also offers wireless charging for its latest iPhones — and there is speculation it might do away with charging ports for cables entirely in future models.

But currently the wireless charging option offers lower power and data transfer speeds than USB-C.

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