ROSS CLARK: What a bunch of bloc-heads! The EU’s approach to its Covid vaccine rollout highlights everything that is wrong with the union
The EU’s vaccine-buying programme provided it with an opportunity to demonstrate the superiority of its trans-national way of doing things over the go-it-alone approach of Brexit Britain.
Instead, it has highlighted everything that is wrong with the bloc – and why member states should think about following Britain’s example and getting out.
Now the EU’s failure to order vaccines promptly in sufficient quantities and start the rollout have moved beyond an issue of mere incompetence.
On Tuesday, European Council president Charles Michel made the claim that Britain had banned exports of Covid vaccines and/or their components, the implication being that we are hoarding supplies for ourselves.
As the Prime Minister confirmed yesterday, Britain has imposed no such ban, neither on vaccines themselves nor their ingredients. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab wrote to Michel dismissing claims he had made as ‘completely false’.
Yet, instead of putting the record straight, the office of European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen would only put out a disingenuous statement. ‘We have a policy of not commenting on other people’s comments,’ it said.
On Tuesday, European Council president Charles Michel made the claim that Britain had banned exports of Covid vaccines and/or their components, the implication being that we are hoarding supplies for ourselves
In fact it isn’t Britain that has sought to ban exports of Covid vaccines, it is Italy, using powers instigated by the European Commission in January.
These powers demand that vaccine manufacturers based in the EU seek permission from the Commission and from the national government of the country in which they are located before they can export vaccines to non-EU countries.
Last week Italy banned the export of more than a quarter of a million doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine to Australia.
In other words the EU is attacking Britain for an offence of which it is itself guilty.
Michel is no doubt frustrated by the dire situation in which the EU now finds itself.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab wrote to Michel dismissing claims he had made as ‘completely false’
Up until March 8, 9.6 doses of Covid vaccine have been delivered for every 100 EU citizens. In Britain the figure is 35 doses.
More than 22million people here have received one jab – that’s more than the combined total for France, Germany, Italy and Austria.
And while Britain is on course to be fully vaccinated by the summer, the EU is likely to face a second winter with many people still unprotected.
The EU finds itself in this position because it was slow to order vaccines and insisted on penny-pinching when it did so.
Last summer, when no one knew which, if any, vaccines would prove effective, the UK Government ordered enough to vaccinate the population several times over, with the intention of donating any excess to developing countries.
The EU ordered much less.
Worse, even when the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine had proved itself in trials, the EU declined to order as much as it was offered, in part to try to preserve a market for a French-developed Sanofi vaccine, which is still months away from being approved. Any member states that opted to start buying their own supplies were forced to stop.
When it emerged there would be delays in production at EU-based AstraZeneca factories, the EU demanded Britain hand over its own excess supplies, threatening to ban the export of the Pfizer vaccine to Britain if not.
Then, French president Emmanuel Macron, followed by German leader Angela Merkel, cast doubt on the effectiveness of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine in people aged over 65 despite evidence to the contrary. As a result, many EU citizens rejected it, leaving doses unused in fridges.
Last summer, when no one knew which, if any, vaccines would prove effective, the UK Government ordered enough to vaccinate the population several times over, with the intention of donating any excess to developing countries. The EU ordered much less
Now, the French and German health authorities have grudgingly agreed the vaccine is effective – but damage to public confidence has already been done.
No one should take pleasure from the EU’s predicament. It is in all our interests that as many people as possible in Europe and beyond are vaccinated as soon as possible so trade and travel can open up.
But this fiasco must surely prompt EU citizens to ask exactly what Brussels – and its hordes of unaccountable, highly-paid bureaucrats – has done for them during the greatest crisis since the Second World War.
It should also prompt manufacturers to ponder the wisdom of investing in EU countries, given that the EU has assumed the power to cut off exports at whim.
The EU may pose as a champion of free trade and multilateral action but the vaccine crisis has revealed the protectionist monster that has always lain at its heart.
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