EU Vaccine Crisis ‘Biggest Confidence-Destroying Programme in Its History’, Says German Editor

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen gives a press statement after the European Medicines Agency (EMA) gave the green light to European countries to start Covid-19 vaccinations in the coming days, after a regulatory approval for the use of a shot jointly developed by US company Pfizer and its …
JOHANNA GERON/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

The German media has continued to criticise the EU’s handling of its vaccine programme, headed by the country’s former defence minister, with an editor from Germany’s largest-selling newspaper calling it the “biggest confidence-destroying programme in its history”.

Bild‘s Peter Tiede remarked that while Europeans mocked “those strange Brexit birds with the weird Euro-populist Boris Johnson at their head”, the bloc and Germany are not laughing now, as it is “struggling with a vaccination disaster”.

The UK, which decided not to remain part of the EU’s European Medicines Agency, was the first Western nation to approve a vaccine and has vaccinated over 13 per cent of its population, while the EU has struggled to protect on average two per cent of the EU27’s inhabitants.

Writing in The Times on Monday, Mr Tiede admitted that “it was Johnson who got it right”, while Europe “ordered too little, too late. We were too stingy, too lame.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the country had hit a major milestone after offering every care home resident the first dose. However, in Germany, which has a population of 83 million, “vaccination appointments for the elderly have had to be cancelled, if they actually got any at all” the Bild editor said. While the British government hopes to vaccinate the most vulnerable of its some 68 million by mid-February and to begin planning in March for a slow easing of lockdown by May, Tiede admits that “we will not have vaccinated 70 per cent of Germans before the autumn. And that is the best-case scenario.”

“And what did the EU do? It created the biggest confidence-destroying programme in its history. On top of this, Brussels and the governments of the EU states have managed to confirm the old prejudice of a sluggish Europe. Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president, denies all blame. Whistling loudly in the dark and thus damaging even further any confidence in her ability to run the EU,” the chief political reporter wrote.

The remarks are the latest in a chorus of condemnation in German media, including last week when Die Zeit called the Commission’s handling of the vaccine programme “the best advertisement for Brexit”. Der Tagesspiegel said Brussels’ unwillingness to accept that it was to blame was “jaw-dropping” and “bordered on shamelessness”.

Mrs von der Leyen launched an attack on AstraZeneca after the drugs firm announced a shortfall in dosage production, allegedly due to delays in the EU signing a contract, which in turn delayed the manufacturing process.

She is reportedly now under pressure to resign from her role as president of the European Commission — the EU’s powerful executive arm — after she proposed, then withdrew, plans for a border on the isle of Ireland between EU member state the Republic of Ireland and the UK nation Northern Ireland, to stop vaccines from the EU entering the UK. The creation of an internal border could have been a breach of the Good Friday Agreement — a result that the bloc vocally sought to prevent in the four years of negotiations with the UK since the 2016 vote to leave.

European Commission President von der Leyen reportedly made the decision without telling other senior EU officials or notifying the United Kingdom or the Republic of Ireland. Brussels diplomats are calling for her resignation, with one telling The Telegraph on Sunday: She needs to go. Now.”

They added: “She told f—— no one, after four years of tedious skullduggery over the [Irish] backstop. Surely the commission could have thought of the optics?”

The EU diplomatic source also said that von der Leyen was getting “increasingly vindictive because of this Brexit thing” — echoing the assessment last week by Nigel Farage, after Brussels bureaucrats accused AstraZeneca of sending EU vaccines to the UK and demanded British-made vaccines be sent to Europe to make up for the shortfall.

Brussels is still threatening to block exports of EU-made vaccines which fulfil contracts with foreign buyers, including the UK, after ordering a raid last week on a Belgian plant suspected of sending vaccines to the UK. Regional media have since reported that it was simply a case of the Seneffe factory being slower than expected.

Mr Tiede alluded in his Times piece to von der Leyen’s failure at procurement for EU vaccines being a mirror of her failure to procure military equipment as German defence minister, and that the European Commission had become a dumping ground for failed national politicians.

“Angela Merkel ordered her away to the European Commission. Just as Europe has been doing for decades with its discarded political personnel: disposed of like nuclear waste in the final repository of Brussels. That is the story that Johnson has told the British again and again. He, the European populist. Now, we agree with him,” he wrote.

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