What was the European Commission’s (EC) global response to the COVID-19 pandemic and how did it use the crisis to claim competence in the area of global health? This article explores the EC’s global coronavirus response. In so doing, it suggests studying the crisis response in terms of how the EC struggled to be recognized as a competent player in the international community of states and institutions. In particular, the article shows how the EC utilized the crisis unleashed by the pandemic to engage in geopolitical positioning in relation to World Health Organization (WHO) funding and the vaccine race, and by using its financial clout to struggle for mastery as a global health actor. The article responds to the challenge of understanding differentiation in the broader field of European foreign, security and defence policies. By treating informal practices by the EC on the world stage in and of themselves, the article shows how the constant struggle for competence plays into the politics of European integration and considers its potential for being instantiated in formal transfers of competence in the area of global health. (This article is an output of the EUFLEX project, which has been funded by the Research Council of Norway (project number 287131).