1. The European Union has had a bad week. Browse through some important topics – from vaccines to relations with the other great poles of power, from the US to China to Russia. It almost always reacts on the defensive or according to the short-term interests of its larger countries. You see enemies where you shouldn’t and friends where you only have enemies. It is more about covering up mistakes than correcting them, resorting to half-truths and a kind of “European nationalism” that may work in the near future but may prove to be a disaster in the future.
The most obvious case from a media impact point of view is that of vaccines, although this is not the only one. The Commission made some assessment errors in purchasing the vaccines jointly from several pharmaceutical companies that could manufacture them. These mistakes are now reflected in the lack of care and the slow vaccination process in most European countries. One good thing – buying the vaccines together to get the financial resources and size of the Union – risks becoming a slow and flawed process, especially when compared to the UK and US.
We already know what the Commission’s mistakes were: they want to buy cheaper and then contract with pharmaceutical companies later. As little as barafuste with the companies that produce them and that threaten to take them to court, this does not solve the problem. Instead of finding ways to overcome this, the Commission and some European governments prefer to put the finger and responsibility on others. Great Britain is the ideal destination.
If Brexit was a bad thing, nothing positive can come out of the UK. Trying to block pharmaceutical exports from factories in continental Europe to the UK, USA or Canada has already yielded poor results. First, when he decided to enforce a border between the two Irish women after spending three years defending their nonexistence in order to save the peace deal. The error only lasted 48 hours. Then with violent protests from third countries, which are indirectly affected by this European attempt to solve the problem of their vaccines in the secretariat and unilaterally to increase export barriers. After all, the pharmaceutical companies themselves have to explain the complexities of the supply chains that enable them to manufacture the end product, which ranges from raw materials to packaging to different places in the world.
As for the UK, this arbitrary decision could have jeopardized the second dose of millions of vaccines, demonstrating the lack of discrimination between the decisions made in Brussels. WHO joined the chorus in urging Europe not to lapse into “catastrophic” “vaccine nationalism” and closed the door on vaccinating others, especially those with much less resources. To date, and despite COVAX, the Union has not yet sent a single vaccine to these countries. Now he is talking about starting exports for free or for a fee at the end of this year. However, China, Russia and India themselves are making the vaccine a new geopolitical weapon, aiming to be the first to reach countries that neither have the technology nor the money to purchase it.
2. The President of the Commission, who had made the vaccine his trademark and whose work was to be presented, unnecessarily wasted the accumulated credit by failing to recognize the mistakes and responding to criticism by attacking third parties in all directions. It had the support of the main European leaders, starting with Merkel and Macron, who fully validated their strategy – before and now. In his meetings with journalists over the past few days, Von der Leyen recalled that the Commission had reserved 2.3 billion doses for six laboratories (Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech, AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, CureVac and Sanofi). He again congratulated himself on better terms than the United Kingdom and the United States in terms of pricing and laboratory responsibility in the event of problems. He confirmed that the goal is to have 70% of Europe’s population vaccinated by the end of summer. He admitted only one mistake: the Commission did not take into account production difficulties as much as possible and gave the Europeans an idea of ease that did not exist. In other words, for the Commission it is not about strategy but about communication.
However, the President of the Commission went further and even questioned the reliability of the UK agency validating the medicines compared to the rigor of the European agency. Almost at the same time as the Commission President’s last meeting with journalists, Vice-President and Head of European Diplomacy Josep Borrell said in Moscow that the Union hoped the EMA would quickly validate the Russian vaccine. This was just one of the “high points” of the all-out diplomatic disaster that we witnessed almost open-mouthed and that Borrell made in Moscow on a visit that coincided with the trial of Alexei Navalny and the violent repression of his millions of supporters. On the same day that Borrell expressed his willingness to enter into dialogue with Russia alongside a non-diplomatic Lavrov, Moscow expelled three European diplomats (from Germany, Sweden and Poland) for allegedly interfering in the Navalny case.
Where are we? The British neglect the quality of the vaccines they give to their citizens. But does the Union believe in the quality of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, which has been turned into a lifeline for vaccine shortages?
This attempt by Brussels to turn the country with the greatest scientific development in Europe into a country without credibility just because it has left the Union is at least ridiculous. Oxford remains Oxford, with or without “Brexit”, with or without Boris Johnson. And the rest too. Yesterday, 90% of Britons over 75 years of age were vaccinated
3. The point is not that Russia does not have the scientific capacity to produce a vaccine. The question concerns the transparency of the process and the credibility of a political regime in which the institutions do not have their own autonomy and do what the government tells them to do. Although the EMA fully validated the Oxford vaccine (as did the UK authority), several European governments ruled that it was not suitable for people over 65 or even 55, claiming that there were not enough tests in this age group. The question might even be legitimate had the EMA not unreservedly accepted the vaccine and the British had used it since mid-December, until now with no problems. The latest studies at Oxford show it is effective for some of the new varieties, which is great news. From the perspective of the world that is not rich, it has two other advantages: the price is much lower than the others that are already on the market and it is much easier to store.
This attempt by Brussels to turn the country with the greatest scientific development in Europe into a country without credibility just because it has left the Union is at least ridiculous. Oxford remains Oxford, with or without “Brexit”, with or without Boris Johnson. And the rest too. Yesterday, 90% of Britons over 75 years of age were vaccinated.
In his last interview with European newspapers, Von der Leyen found a formula to explain the British speed in the vaccination process: the Union is “a tank”, the British are “a speedboat”. In the end, the tank is the most powerful weapon. It’s too early to know how this vaccination race will end. However, the President of the Commission does not know what happened to the invincible armada.