I participated in a videoconference meeting of the members of the European Council last Thursday, 25 March. Provision had been made for this meeting to continue on the morning of 26 March. This did not prove necessary, however, as we concluded our discussions on the evening of 25 March.
Our meeting began at noon with the customary exchange of views with the President of the European Parliament, Mr. David Sassoli. Following our exchange with the president, we worked through each of our agenda items, namely, Covid-19, European Union relations with Turkey and Russia and the Single Market in industrial policy, digital and the economy.
We were joined by the President of the European Central Bank, Ms Christine Lagarde, and the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, in his capacity as president of the Eurogroup, for a meeting of the euro summit in inclusive format. For the final part of our meeting, we were joined by the US President, Joe Biden, with whom we held a short exchange. The Minister of State, Deputy Byrne, will provide further detail on our discussions on Turkey and Russia in his concluding remarks. I will report now on all other matters.
As well as sharing his views on the issues on the agenda of the meeting, President Sassoli took the opportunity to express his concerns at the sanctions imposed by China on five Members of the European Parliament, the Parliament's Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Council's Political and Security Committee.
Prime Minister Costa then presented a report on the work of the Portuguese Presidency to date. As well as highlighting progress on the multi-annual financial framework, MFF, he welcomed the agreement reached on the Conference on the Future of Europe and looked forward to its launch on 9 May.
We then began our consideration of Covid-19. As expected, this was a difficult, lengthy and sober discussion given the trajectory of the disease across Europe in recent weeks and the importance of this issue for every EU leader. We discussed the epidemiological situation in our respective countries. The main focus of our discussion was on vaccines. President von der Leyen provided an overview of status of delivery of vaccines to and within the European Union. She confirmed that approximately 88 million doses had been delivered across the EU up to the end of last week. Notwithstanding disruptions to anticipated supplies, approximately 100 million doses will have been delivered in the first quarter of this year. This is expected to increase significantly to around 360 million doses over the second quarter, starting tomorrow.
As I stated in the House last week, we should not lose sight of the scale of what has been achieved in developing effective vaccines in such a short timeframe. The decision that the European Union should come together as one to order and distribute vaccines was the right one, and very much in Ireland's interests. The European Union has given us access to a portfolio of more than 2.6 billion doses, and deliveries will continue to increase as production accelerates.
In our discussion last Thursday, there was agreement on the need to further increase vaccine production, supply and distribution. Leaders confirmed the pro rata key for the allocation of vaccines. In a spirit of solidarity, we agreed that our ambassadors in Brussels should consider the speed of delivery of vaccines in allocating 10 million doses of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine advanced from quarter 4 to the second quarter of this year. For my part, I emphasised that to facilitate increased vaccine supplies, we need to work with global pharmaceutical companies and protect global supply chains. Of course, it is also vital that pharmaceutical companies uphold their side of contracts that they have entered into with the European Union. We agreed on the importance of transparency around vaccine supplies, which has been assisted through the transparency and authorisation mechanism for Covid-19 vaccines.
The European Union is an important exporter of vaccines and this should be acknowledged. The pandemic is a global challenge and we must work together to overcome it. Equally, the production of vaccines relies on a range of inputs, from the elements of which they are constituted to the vials in which they are bottled, and is a global activity relying on complicated and easily disrupted relationships.
It cannot be stressed enough that until all of us are safe, none of us is safe. This is why we must continue to work in solidarity, both within and outside the European Union.
We agreed on the need to accelerate work on a vaccine-sharing mechanism which will complement the work of COVAX, Covid-19 Vaccines Global Access, in ensuring universal access to vaccines. The European Union will continue to strengthen its global response to the pandemic. We need to ensure fair and equitable access to vaccines right across the globe.
Looking to the future, we agreed preparations should begin on a common approach to the gradual lifting of restrictions when the situation allows. Legislative and technical work on interoperable Covid-19 digital certificates will be taken forward as a matter of urgency. We will work constructively with colleagues across the European Union as we consider this proposal further.
The Government's focus now is on avoiding non-essential international travel, keeping the number of new infections low, accelerating the vaccination programme, as well as reopening our economy and society in a phased and safe manner. The economic challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic highlight the importance of a strong and resilient Single Market and of policies which strengthen our competitiveness.
Integral to this is, and increasingly will be, our ability to lead and to manage digital transformation. When we met last week, EU leaders considered the European Commission's digital compass proposals. This sets smart digital ambitions for the decade ahead for digital skills, for data and connectivity infrastructure, for the digital intensity of business and for the modernisation of our public services. We also considered the social aspects of the digital transition, in particular its implications for skills and working conditions. We agreed that work on digital compass should be examined swiftly. The social dimension will be considered when we meet for the social summit in Porto on 7 May.
We endorsed the policy priority areas of the annual sustainable growth strategy published by the European Commission. These will be reflected in each member state's national recovery and resilience plan on which work is ongoing. An open, well-functioning, competitive and innovative digital economy is the essential basis for the European Union's future economic strength. Recent events have highlighted our interdependence and shown that the role of the EU as a champion of open, rules-based multilateralism has never been more important. That is why we agreed that the European Union should strengthen its efforts to promote EU digital standards and to develop global digital rules in close co-operation with like-minded partners. We agreed also that the European Union should continue to work towards a global consensus-based solution within the framework of the OECD on the issue of international digital taxation. I support that goal.
On Thursday, European Union leaders also met as the euro summit in inclusive format. All 27 EU leaders participated, not just the leaders of euro area member states. The President of the European Central Bank, Christine Lagarde, gave a presentation on the international role of the euro. We were also joined by the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, in his capacity as president of the Eurogroup. Our discussions complemented those on the Single Market, industrial policy, digital and the economy, in particular on the need for a strong economic recovery within the European Union as a necessary foundation to strengthen the international role of the euro.
We highlighted the importance of a sound financial architecture and of preserving the European Union's ability to ensure its financial stability and resilience. We called for a stronger and more innovative digital finance sector and more efficient and resilient payment systems. We asked that exploratory work on the possible introduction of a digital euro be taken forward. I support the emphasis placed in our statement on the need for a strong economic recovery, integrated financial markets and payment systems and delivering on green and digital finance. These provide the basis for the strong underlying economic performance on which the international role of the euro depends.
We also emphasised the role of the recovery and resilience facility in financing the green and digital transition needed to ensure our future prosperity. We need to continue our efforts strengthening economic and monetary union, completing banking union and making further progress on the capital markets union. We will return to these issues and review progress when we meet again in euro summit format in June. We will also return to our discussion of the economic challenges for the euro area arising from the Covid-19 crisis.
The US President, Joe Biden, joined us to discuss his commitment to strengthening EU-US relations, as he did when I met with him bilaterally on St. Patrick's Day. This was the first time in 11 years that a US President joined in a meeting with European Union leaders. The European Council President, Charles Michel, warmly welcomed the US President on behalf of the European Union.
I welcome the fact that there is now real ambition on both sides of the Atlantic to revitalise our relations and to do so with energy and immediacy. The EU and the US are very like-minded on many issues, for example, climate change. We should be providing leadership to the world. Working together where we can in multilateral settings is the best way of ensuring positive outcomes for Ireland, the European Union and the world. I welcome President Biden's clear commitment to multilateral co-operation on which he has already delivered concrete action including at the World Health Organization, the United Nations and the Paris Agreement. On Covid, we would like to see the US export vaccines in particular to the parts of the world most in need. I welcome the US recognition of the need to protect global supply chains for the ongoing production of vaccines.
Last week's meeting was the third meeting by videoconference of EU leaders this year and the thirteenth such meeting since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. What was an innovation last year is now almost routine. This is instructive of how to embrace change successfully and digital transformation when necessary. Last week, we succeeded again in advancing the EU position on a wide range of topical and pressing issues. Our very warm engagement with the President Biden highlights the value and opportunities of such meetings by videoconference. However, every EU leader would prefer that the epidemiological situation was such that we could meet in person, even if it was the right decision not to do so last week.
Today's debate in the House takes place on the last day of the first quarter of this year. It has been an exceptionally difficult quarter for us all. That is why my unrelenting focus in the second quarter, and that of EU leaders, will be on the acceleration of the production, delivery and deployment of vaccines. At the end of the second quarter, we will be in a very different place.
The next regular meeting of the European Council will take place on 24 and 25 June. Before that, we are scheduled to meet in Porto for the EU social summit on 7 May, followed by an informal European Council meeting and an EU-India summit on 8 May. I look forward to taking this important agenda forward with my EU counterparts.
As I already indicated, the Minister of State, Deputy Byrne, will report on our discussions on relations with Russia and Turkey. I look forward to hearing Members' contributions to the debate.