The European Union appears to be haemorrhaging goodwill over its botched handling of coronavirus vaccine procurement, as reliably pro-Brussels outlets line up to criticise the leadership of the bloc in the strongest terms.
The condemnations from the desks of top British and European journalists come in the wake of a disastrous few weeks for the European Union, which sought to lay the blame for the failure of its rapid coronavirus vaccine programme at the door of others, an effort which seems to have only caused it more reputational harm.
After going after drugmaker AstraZeneca to criticise them for slow deliveries of vaccines and even trying to seize vaccines meant for other countries, the European Commission’s chief Ursula von der Leyen was told in certain terms that the fault lay with the bloc. Britain receiving more vaccines than the EU’s group buy was down to a simple fact of the bloc having made the order months after London.
The serial failures of the EU, while the independent Brexit Britain forged ahead, has evidently angered many who believed Brussels should be doing better — an attitude perhaps embodied by the bullish reporting of 2020 which insisted that the United Kingdom would actually fare worse in the race to vaccinate against coronavirus because it had departed the European Union.
The newspaper of record for Britain’s left, The Guardian — and its Sundays-only sister newspaper The Observer — has been reliably pro-Brussels and anti-Brexit through the referendum and beyond, yet the editorial published this Sunday may represent some of the most obviously critical opinion from the Guardian group’s editorial staff in recent years. Revealing a strength of feeling on Europe’s failures that seem tantamount to outright anger at the European Commission, the Observer editorial called the EU’s progress “shambolic”, noting the “mistakes and misjudgement” of President von der Leyen.
Apparently lending credence to the chorus of voices asking whether it is time for the failed former German defence minister to become a failed former European Commission president as well, the editorial noted: “This latest blunder will intensify doubts about her leadership.”
The piece abounds with telling phrases: “The shambles in Brussels”, “Low-quality European leadership”, “panicky leadership in Brussels”. It calls von der Leyen and her health commissioner “equally unimpressive” and notes the problems they are facing are caused by political choices, not scientific ones. To appreciate the magnitude of these claims, remember this is an editorial from the pro-EU newspaper of choice for England’s middle class, not a pro-Brexit tabloid.
In their own words:
“The vaccine crisis has shown the EU at its worst. By contrast, it has shown Britain at its best… for the EU, it should get its house in order – quickly.”
While the BBC makes a great song-and-dance about being politically impartial, its clear bias on the matter of Brexit and being pro-EU in its coverage has been pointed out time and time again. Barely disguised criticism of the EU’s performance coming from a BBC news programme, therefore, may have come as some surprise to viewers.
Speaking on his Outside Source programme in a rundown of the previous days’ events, BBC presenter Ros Atkins said the way the nations of Europe had decided to collectively order their coronavirus vaccines through Brussels and then come to regret their decision was going against the idea that “together is better”.
He said: “The European Union has always had a clear view of itself — moral fair, competent, calm, informed, and finding strength in numbers. But during the vaccine rollout, that is coming under pressure… the EU signed vaccine deals months after the UK. In the EU less than three per cent of people have received at least one jab, in the UK it’s at least 14 per cent.”
The EU has struggled to deliver, the failures are “of its own doing”, and European political leaders are “losing their cool” over the debacle.
— Ros Atkins (@BBCRosAtkins) February 1, 2021
The Financial Times
Noting, like others, that for top Eurocrats like Ursula von der Leyen the “major political scandal… is a potentially career-ending fiasco”, the paper of Britain’s financial and business elite laid blame clearly with the European Commission, dismissing their attempts in days past to shift responsibility to vaccine manufacturers themselves.
The FT said the EU was true to form in its responses, writing:
…the commission and Ms von der Leyen saw the pandemic as a great opportunity to expand EU powers. Following the well-worn Brussels dictum that the EU always progresses at times of crisis, they pushed to take control.
Health policy has traditionally been largely reserved for individual nations. But Ms Von der Leyen announced that the EU is now “building a European Health Union”… In retrospect, the middle of a pandemic was probably not the ideal time to launch a radical experiment in health policymaking.
Ultimately, the paper found:
…the European Commission’s incompetence has, perhaps temporarily, reshaped the Brexit debate in Britain — making Mr Johnson’s arguments that the UK is better off outside the EU look more credible. Covid-19 almost killed Mr Johnson. But it has now handed him a political lifeline.
Known as the economic powerhouse of Europe, Germany is also a pharmaceuticals giant, and one of the main controlling interests in the European Union. A recent member of Angela Merkel’s government is now the president of the European Commission, after all.
All that said, it appears to have been especially galling for German commentators to look on as their creation, the European Union, went into meltdown over its inability to acquire enough doses of a partly British-developed Oxford vaccine. A lot of this apparent anger has played out between German newspaper editors in recent days, with the nation’s best-selling title Bild leading the charge.
Last week, the paper noted that while the European Union and German leaders liked to mock President Trump, Boris Johnson, and Benjamin Netanyahu, the three leaders had actually left the Union with its wheels spinning when it came to vaccinations. Comparing the British and European experiences, the paper said “Brexit Boris laid the foundation for vaccination success” rather than waiting for the “junk EU Commission”, as Berlin had done.
These themes were underlined days later in a guest article by the top political editor of Bild in The Times, Britain’s newspaper of record, that was even more scathing. Emphasising the heartache felt by Europeans watching Brexit Britain speed away in the vaccine race, Peter Tiede wrote the EU’s failure had been the “biggest confidence-destroying programme in its history.”
The contract with Astrazeneca and the vaccination disaster are a declaration of bankruptcy for Brussels, an indictment of the 27 member states. An insult for us Europeans and especially for convinced Europeans like me. And the fact that we in Germany can only vaccinate at a snail’s pace, that we are left behind by countries like Italy, Bahrain or the United Arab Emirates, is our humiliation. Especially when we look at the island that once belonged to our EU.
It is embarrassing because now we are the fools.
Bild was not alone in this criticism, however. As Breitbart London reported, liberal newspaper Die Zeit also struck along these lines, writing in an analysis piece that the vaccine debacle was “the best advertisement for Brexit”. In effect, sclerotic Brussels was proving, in real time, what Brexiteers had claimed of it for decades, writing: “It is acting slowly, bureaucratically, and protectionist. And if something goes wrong, it’s everyone else’s fault. This is how many Britons see the EU, and so the prejudices were confirmed at the beginning of the week.”
Now, it is time for Germany — and Europe — to play catch-up. As Breitbart London reports Wednesday, Germany is now looking to Russia and China for vaccine doses. Chancellor Merkel has already spoken to Russian President Vladimir Putin — presently making headlines worldwide for jailing the political opposition ahead of this year’s elections — about their Sputnik vaccine programme.
Following claims that Russia’s Sputnik was “91% effective”, Angela Merkel said: “Every vaccine is welcome in the European Union.”