Germany, France quit WHO reform talks amid tension with Washington

WION Web Team Geneva, Switzerland Aug 08, 2020, 04.36 PM(IST)

Merkel and Macron Photograph:( Reuters )

Story highlights

The move is a setback for President Donald Trump as Washington, which holds the rotating chair of the G7, had hoped to issue a common roadmap for a sweeping overhaul of the WHO in September, two months before the US presidential election.

France and Germany have quit talks on reforming the World Health Organization in frustration at attempts by the United States to lead the negotiations, despite its decision to leave the WHO.

The move is a setback for President Donald Trump as Washington, which holds the rotating chair of the G7, had hoped to issue a common roadmap for a sweeping overhaul of the WHO in September, two months before the US presidential election.

The Trump administration, which holds the rotating presidency of the G-7 this year, has accused WHO of bowing to pressure from China in its handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

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The WHO has dismissed his accusations. European governments have also criticised the WHO but do not go as far as the United States in their criticism, and the decision by Paris and Berlin to leave the talks follows tensions over what they say are Washington’s attempts to dominate the negotiations.

Germany's Health Ministry said the issue was discussed during a call of health ministers from the Group of Seven leading economies Thursday.

In a statement Saturday, the ministry said that in view of the United States' withdrawal from WHO, Germany and France currently see no mandate for the US to lead the WHO reform process for the G-7.

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“Nobody wants to be dragged into a reform process and getting an outline for it from a country which itself just left the WHO,” a senior European official involved in the talks said.

The German and French health ministries confirmed that the two countries were opposed to the United States leading the talks after announcing their intention to leave the organisation.

A spokesman for the Italian health ministry said that work on the reform document was still underway, adding however that Italy’s position was in line with Paris and Berlin.

Asked about the position of France and Germany, a senior Trump administration official said: “All members of the G7 explicitly supported the substance of the WHO reform ideas.”

“Notwithstanding, it is regrettable that Germany and France ultimately chose not to join the group in endorsing the roadmap,” he said.

A spokesman for the British government declined to comment on the latest developments but added that Britain supported the WHO and urged a reform of the body “to ensure it remains flexible and responsive”.

The talks on WHO reform began about four months ago. There have been nearly 20 teleconferences between health ministers from the Group of Seven industrialised nations, and dozens of meetings of diplomats and other officials.

A deal by the G7, which also includes Japan and Canada, would facilitate talks at the G20 and United Nations, where any changes would have to be agreed with China, Russia and other major governments not in the G7.

It is unclear whether a G7 summit in the United States, at which Trump hopes leaders will endorse the roadmap, will now go ahead in September as planned.

US officials have not said what reforms Washington has sought. But an initial reform roadmap proposed by Washington was seen by many of its allies as too critical, with one European official involved in the negotiations describing it as “rude”.

Despite changes to the original text, Washington’s push remained unacceptable, mainly to Germany, sources familiar with the negotiations said.