The European Commission President sparked outrage yesterday as she threatened to block the export of jabs to the UK. She hit out at pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, accusing them of “under-producing and under-delivering”. Ms von der Leyen added that “all options are on the table” to boost the EU’s stuttering immunisation campaign, including moves to halt exports to countries which “have higher vaccination rates than us”. The EU chief added: “We are still waiting for doses to come from the UK, so this is an invitation to show us that there are also doses from the UK coming to the European Union. “Open roads run in both directions.”
The UK Government responded furiously, with Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab accusing Brussels of “brinkmanship”.
He said: “Frankly, I’m surprised we’re having this conversation. It is normally what the UK and EU team up on to reject when other countries with less democratic views than our own engage in that kind of brinkmanship.”
Pressure has been building on the EU for weeks over the vaccine crisis, as seen last month when insiders warned of internal frustration.
One senior official told Politico last month: “They had the backing of the 27. Days later, they have lost a lot of leaders — openly and less openly — along the way.
“We have to take back control of this system we have put in place. Otherwise, we risk losing the confidence of our citizens.”
Meanwhile, a spokesperson close to Michel Barnier said the EU’s threat to override the Brexit withdrawal agreement and block vaccines going into Northern Ireland in January has backfired.
They said: “That incident has weakened Von der Leyen, even though it is in the member states’ interests not to weaken her more.”
Jens Geier, a member of the European Parliament who leads the German Social Democrat delegation, brought up Ms Von der Leyen’s turbulent past as a member of Germany’s government, saying “this is a pattern she brought from Berlin”.
He added: “She keeps things under the closest control possible, and gives nobody the opportunity to say something, or be consulted.
“It is damaging for her credibility because her style of leadership has caused a serious crisis, and she must draw lessons from it.
“She probably has reasons to rethink her leadership style.”
READ MORE: EU vaccine crisis: Brussels’ actions ‘border on shameless’
Europe’s media has also been critical of the European Commission.
Wiener Zeitung, an Austrian outlet, said in January: “At the Brussels level you often hear complaints – and they are often justified – that in the member states primal political instincts are at work that give priority to quick successes over the long-term perspective, which by contrast is focused on the wellbeing of Europe as a whole.
“Perhaps the vaccine manufacturers also sense that time is not of the essence for Europe. There are reports that while neither the US nor Britain are facing delays in deliveries, the EU certainly is.
“The recurrent nightmare of the EU must be that some states and too many citizens are plagued by the suspicion that it might be better to get through the crisis without Brussels than with it.”
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German newspaper Tagesspiegel hit out at Ms von der Leyen and co for blaming pharmaceutical companies.
It said: “It borders on shamelessness. To put it mildly… Who is getting how much and when? How many doses are available? How many refrigerated containers are there?
“Who’s taking care of transport? The requirements are not only national. Which is precisely why it’s the EU’s job to take care of them… In a concerted and concentrated effort of military precision.
“What the pharma industry has pulled off, with groundbreaking inventions at breakneck speed, is a wonder. But what the EU is doing makes you shake your head in wonder. And that’s putting it politely.”