MEP slams Member States that broke ranks from EU vaccine strategy

The EU has sought to maintain a unified approach to the vaccination procurement process but the painfully slow rollout in recent weeks has led to several Member States deciding to “go it alone.”
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By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

04 Mar 2021

In the last few days four EU members - Denmark, Austria, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic - announced they would seek bilateral deals with other countries for doses of vaccines. One other Member State, Hungary, had already done the same.

Every Member State is far behind many other countries around the world in the vaccine rollout. Belgium has vaccinated just 524,800 people so far, making it one of the worst performers in the EU.

This compares with 52 percent of Israel’s population who have been administered with a vaccine jab. A total of 7 percent of the EU population have received a jab compared with 33 percent in the UK.

German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz has even gone so far as to call the EU vaccine programme a “total shitshow.”

On Thursday, Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen and Austrian chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, will discuss a joint project on producing vaccines with the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

This flies directly in the face of the EU stance, which has always been for Member States to delegate the vaccine programme to Brussels.

“Some of the Member States that are looking for vaccines elsewhere now were the ones that have significantly slowed down the Commission's negotiations with pharmaceutical companies by insisting on frugality and holding back much-needed money” Jutta Paulus, Greens/EFA

But on Thursday, Jutta Paulus, a German Greens/EFA member, condemned those EU countries that have gone it alone.

The deputy, a member of Parliament’s environment, public health and food safety committee, told this website, “Instead of hypocritical blame games and PR stunts, Europe needs solidarity, cooperation and honesty. In Europe, there is no bottleneck for vaccine research and innovation, but in production and supply chains.”

The MEP, who is a pharmacist, added, “Therefore, our priority must stay to act together and not against each other. Some of the Member States that are looking for vaccines elsewhere now were the ones that have significantly slowed down the Commission's negotiations with pharmaceutical companies by insisting on frugality and holding back much-needed money.”

Earlier this week, Sebatian Kurz joined others such as Belgian Renew Europe member Guy Verhofstadt in saying that the EU rollout was “too slow.”

On Thursday, the slow start in Belgium's Coronavirus vaccination campaign will be the subject of a discussion between federal and regional ministers.

“There are hiccups that absolutely must be resolved and which are not acceptable,” said Belgian health minister Frank Vandenbroucke, adding, “There are delays in the process which are not acceptable.”

“Instead of hypocritical blame games and PR stunts, Europe needs solidarity, cooperation and honesty. In Europe, there is no bottleneck for vaccine research and innovation, but in production and supply chains” Jutta Paulus, Greens/EFA

The European Commission still maintains it can achieve the target of vaccinating 70 percent of the population by the summer despite ongoing supply and production problems.

On Tuesday, a Commission spokesman told reporters, “The production and delivery of vaccines is a project that comes with a lot of obstacles. I think we have developed a successful vaccine strategy.”

Meanwhile, a new survey suggests that as a result of the rollout, trust in the EU's strategy is dwindling, with over half of Germans saying the EU did a bad job handling the Coronavirus vaccine rollout.

The survey says that the UK is the only country where a majority of respondents were happy with the national vaccination rollout.

Elsewhere, Angelos Chryssogelos, of the Wilfried Martens Centre, said the EU is “in the midst of a vaccine crisis.”

He said the slow rollout of its vaccination program was “compounded” by a feud with pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca and the recent diplomatic faux pas over the application of its vaccine export controls to Northern Ireland.

He said, “It is clear that the EU’s vaccine debacle creates major questions for both its internal governance and its international standing.”

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