A senior member of the European Commission has admitted mistakes were made in the process leading up to the EU’s recent attempt to trigger Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Maros Sefcovic, commission vice-president, told Ireland’s European Affairs Committee on Tuesday that the commission “deeply regrets” how it handled the issue, but added that “in the end, in a matter of three hours we got it right”.
The Slovakian official added that “Article 16 was never activated and I can reassure you that the commission has learned the lesson and will do its utmost to protect peace in Northern Ireland, as it has done throughout the entire Brexit process.”
Mr Sefcovic told Euronews that the commission had already apologised and said that there was a need to dial down the “heated rhetoric” around the issue.
On Jan 29, the commission decided that it would trigger Article 16 of the protocol in order to control exports of the Covid vaccine to Northern Ireland, following a week of spats with pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca over deliveries of its vaccine to the EU.
That decision was quickly reversed after a backlash from the UK, Ireland and other European countries.
When pressed by the Irish parliament committee about assurances this would not happen again, Mr Sefcovic said that “the best answer is our track record, unwavering support, political, economic and financial to the peace process since the Belfast agreement was signed and agreed upon”.
“I really would like to underscore the fact that Ireland and Northern Ireland was not only on our minds all the time, but also in our hearts as well, and therefore I believe we achieved very good results,” Mr Sefcovic added.
The commission does not intend to offer any special advanced screening of the protocol’s rules to Ireland, either through its European commissioner or diplomats in Brussels, but will continue with its established processes, a spokesman said.