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EU leader has not called to scrap the Nuremberg Code

December 6, 2021 GMT

CLAIM: Ursula von der Leyen, the chief of the European Union’s executive arm, has called for eliminating the Nuremberg Code.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. Speaking at a press conference, von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, did not call for scrapping the Nuremberg Code, a set of ethical research principles intended to protect people from involuntary experiments and abuse. In fact, she never mentioned it. She called on EU countries to consider making COVID-19 vaccines mandatory.

THE FACTS: Critics of vaccine mandates have repeatedly claimed that such policies violate the Nuremberg Code, but experts have told The Associated Press that is incorrect, because the COVID-19 vaccines aren’t experimental.

False claims began appearing around von der Leyen’s comments last week, when several conservative blogs published posts featuring the inaccurate assertion in their headlines. The claim then spread onto social media, with users linking to the articles or posting screenshots, and the posts continued to circulate widely over the weekend.

One widely shared tweet, misspelling von der Leyan’s name, quotes one of the articles as saying, “Ursula Van Der Leyen, the head of the EU commission, told the press on Wednesday that she is in favour of scrapping the long-standing Nuremberg Code and forcing people to get vaccinated against COVID.”

“In the wake of Austria’s drastic lockdown of unvaccinated people, EU chief calls for throwing out Nuremberg Code,” reads a headline shared in screenshots, referring to Austria’s latest pandemic restrictions.

But video of the Dec. 1 press conference in Brussels shows von der Leyen never mentioned the Nuremberg Code at all, nor was she asked about it by reporters at the event.

Video shows that von der Leyen, speaking alongside Stella Kyriakides, the European commissioner for health and food safety, discussed the importance of vaccination to combat the omicron variant, and said EU member countries should consider mandatory vaccinations.

“How we can encourage and potentially think about mandatory vaccination within the European Union, this needs discussion. This needs a common approach, but it is a discussion that I think has to be led,” she said.

When a reporter asked for her position on Greece’s recent announcement that it will mandate the vaccine for people over the age of 60, von der Leyen replied: “This is pure member state competence, therefore in respect to that, it’s not me to give any kind of recommendation.”

“If you’re asking me what my personal position is, two or three years ago, I would never have thought to witness what we see right now, that we have this horrible pandemic, we have the vaccines, the life saving vaccines, but they are not being used adequately everywhere,” she continued.

Asked about the false claims, a spokesperson for the European Commission pointed to the video of von der Leyen’s comments on Greece in the press conference, and reiterated that any decision to enact vaccine mandates would be up to individual European countries.

“As President Von der Leyen stressed, vaccination in general, notably decisions on mandatory vaccination, is the competence of the Member States,” the spokesperson wrote.

Legal and medical ethics experts told the AP last week that the Nuremberg Code is intended to protect people from involuntary experiments and abuse. The code, which was written in 1947, stems from a military tribunal in Nuremberg, Germany, where Nazi scientists who conducted heinous experiments on inmates in concentration camps were prosecuted after World War II.

In contrast, the COVID-19 vaccines, which have already undergone clinical trials, are not experimental. Similarly, vaccine mandates don’t constitute experiments.

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Associated Press writer Josh Kelety in Phoenix contributed to this report.

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This is part of AP’s effort to address widely shared misinformation, including work with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content that is circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP.