Von der Leyen should consider resigning over vaccine rollout ‘shambles’, says Gunnar Beck

The German Identity and Democracy Group MEP’s comments come with pressure mounting on the Commission President over what is widely seen as a particularly slow response to the vaccination programme.
Gunnar Beck MEP: European Parliament Audiovisual

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

02 Feb 2021

Speaking to this website on Monday, Beck, a lawyer, branded the EU vaccine rollout as a “complete shambles.”

He said the EU vaccine strategy “has cost lives”, adding that Ursula von der Leyen “bears the ultimate responsibility and was very keen to make the rollout an EU competence but this has failed.”

Von der Leyen is expected to face further criticism on Tuesday evening when she meets MEPs from the European People’s Party, Renew Europe and S&D.

The comments by Beck come with a soaring infection rate, particularly in Portugal but also some other parts of Europe.

Criticism of the EU’s performance even comes from Jean-Claude Juncker, von der Leyen’s predecessor, who said “it was all too slow” and not carried out with the maximum transparency.

More people have been vaccinated in the UK compared with the whole of Europe.

Only one-fifth of Germans have been given a Coronavirus jab compared with those in Britain, said Beck, who is an Alternativ für Deutschland (AfD) party MEP and a member of the working group on the Conference on the Future of Europe.

“Member States themselves had largely managed to control the crisis but the Commission insisted on negotiating themselves with the pharma giants, thinking this would be more effective. But this, obviously has failed”

Gunnar Beck, Identity and Democracy Group

He said, “The EU was very keen to take over the vaccine programme from Member States in the summer, even though health is a Member State competence. Responsibility for this was therefore duly granted because Angela Merkel and von der Leyen wanted to dispel any suspicion or possibility of vaccine nationalism.”

“The astonishing thing is that Member States themselves had largely managed to control the crisis but the Commission insisted on negotiating themselves with the pharma giants, thinking this would be more effective. But this, obviously has failed. Both the procurement and rollout have been much slower than other places.”

“The EU was late in concluding contracts with the pharma companies, particularly compared with the UK and US which acted more decisively and much earlier. Clearly this has all been very unsatisfactory.”

Beck, a member of Parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee, said, “People in their 70s and even 50s in the UK have now had a vaccine but, compared with the UK, only one-fifth of  people in Germany, my home country, have been given a jab. People in their 80s in Germany have not even had an appointment for a vaccine yet.”

When asked if this showed that Brexit was a good thing, he added, “I do not think we should jump to conclusions on that, but there has been a big failure on what is a critical public health issue and, as a consequence of this, lives have been and will be lost.”

But he added, “How the Brits must be breathing a sigh of relief their lives are no longer run by bungling European bureaucrats. For the truth is that EU red tape – the customary mountain of Brussels paperwork that has led to shortages of vaccine supplies across the continent – is literally costing lives.”

He said the Commission’s performance had “raised doubts” about the EU and shown that Member States were best placed to deal with health issues.

“How the Brits must be breathing a sigh of relief their lives are no longer run by bungling European bureaucrats. For the truth is that EU red tape – the customary mountain of Brussels paperwork that has led to shortages of vaccine supplies across the continent – is literally costing lives”

Gunnar Beck, Identity and Democracy Group

Further criticism came from Jacob Funk Kirkegaard, a senior fellow of the German Marshall Fund and of the Peterson Institute in Brussels, who, speaking of last week’s confusion over the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, reportedly said, “The egg is on von der Leyen’s face.”

Responding to questions from this site about the rollout in Member States, Stefan De Keersmaecker, Commission spokesperson for health, food safety and transport, said, “For figures per Member State, I invite you to contact them directly.”

“Deliveries take place on the basis of purchase orders which are negotiated between the companies and the Member States (and to which the Commission is not a party).”

Elsewhere, the Commission’s Health and Food Safety directorate head Sandra Gallina explained to MEPs on Monday what the Commission is doing to obtain enough vaccines to reach its objective of having 70 percent of the EU’s adult population inoculated by the summer.

In a debate, budget committee members questioned the director-general on vaccine availability and the use of the EU budget on the vaccine strategy.

In her introductory remarks, Gallina said contracts had to be negotiated rapidly with liability and indemnification “being of paramount importance.”

The EU has “gone beyond the 12-million-vaccinations mark”, she underlined, saying that “there is no need to envy the US or Israel.”

MEPs asked for the contracts with AstraZeneca and others to be more transparent, especially on how funds from the EU budget are used and distributed, and how much money is coming from Member States. The deals with the pharmaceutical companies are of “overriding public interest” and should therefore be disclosed, they said.

Some members demanded that €1.5 billion of unused funds from the research programme and the EU budget margins be used to improve the vaccination rollout in the EU.

Gallina replied by saying this money should be spent on tackling variants of COVID-19 and that the problem is linked to production rather than the number of doses ordered.

She said she was relying on a “breakthrough” in the second quarter of 2021 and on companies whose vaccines are not yet registered, as well as on a second contract with BioNTech, to reach the Commission’s vaccination objective.

S&D MEPs, however, said after the meeting that they were dissatisfied with the answers, with Eider Gardiazabal Rubial, S&D spokeswoman on the budget, saying, “So far, we still do not know clearly how much went to which company. On top of this, Member States claim they had to complement these amounts as that money has been used up, and again, we do not know how much.”

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