The EU has jabbed itself in the foot

This week we have seen the less than edifying spectacle of the EU scrambling to justify its poor vaccination programme. Several briefings and media events have resulted in a war of words between the EU and the major pharma companies that are responsible for the vaccine. Not only that, but the EU and its coterie of politicians or apparatchiks has also managed to blame Brexit Britain implicitly and explicitly for somehow “stealing” the EU’s rightful stock of vaccines.

We should start with the facts. The EU’s overly bureaucratic system led them to signing vaccine contracts far later than the UK – for example, the EU contract with AstraZeneca was signed three months after the UK’s equivalent contract. 

The UK has suffered delays and glitches in its production line but due to starting far earlier, many of these problems have been completely ironed out. Indeed, the CEO of AstraZeneca has explicitly stated that the reason that the schedule for delivering vaccines to the EU will be held up is due to the EU’s dithering over the contract and thus not having the time to remove supply and production chain problems in the same way.

Of course, the EU could not accept that they had made mistakes – it simply does not compute. This is what has caused the caustic situation surrounding vaccines. The EU’s wild search for blame has led to the conspiracy theory that the drug company is diverting supplies away from the EU to sell elsewhere at higher prices. The EU’s response?  European Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides created new export rules requiring the EU to be notified before the export of any vaccines from the EU. This is, of course, the normal reaction from a “rules-based” free trade organisation.

The next stage of the EU’s overreaction to their own failure has been to threaten legal action. The odd part of this is that the AstraZeneca vaccine was still not legally able to be sold within the EU when they first made the threat. So, EU leaders and politicians are threatening to sue a company for not providing vaccines which they cannot yet provide due to the EU’s own laws and regulations. Again, a wonderful example of a truly “rules-based” system.

There are also those, who take the EU’s mistakes and run with them – spinning up a new narrative – that it does not matter that the EU was slow to sign a contract because the EU deserves to jump the queue. Indeed, as Ursula Von Der Leyen said, they “reject the logic of first come, first served”. There is very little that the EU can do or say that actually backs up this position. It is entirely the EU’s fault for the delay in their vaccination rollout. They cannot expect a major production line and supply chain to magically spring into place just because they have finally deemed it important.

Even more strangely, a Handelsblatt article – a normally reputable German newspaper – just happened to publish, at this tense moment, an article with damaging and wholly inaccurate claims about the efficacy of the Oxford vaccine.

Once again, the clause of “best endeavours” has come into play. However, unlike during the Brexit negotiations, it seems like the EU will fall foul of this clause. The EU cannot demand that AstraZeneca sets aside other commitments just to indulge the bloc’s flawed process. If the EU had embraced a reduced red-tape approach, like the UK they would not be resorting to these shameful displays of pique.

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