Aussie Govt: Desperate EU ‘Tearing Up Rule Book’ by Blocking Vaccine Shipment

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 12: Prime Minister Scott Morrison visits the CSL vaccine manufacturing facility on February 12, 2021 in Melbourne, Australia. Pharmaceutical company CSL is manufacturing Australia's Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines. (Photo by David Caird-Pool/Getty Images)
David Caird-Pool/Getty Images

Australia’s finance minister has suggested that a “desperate” European Union is “tear[ing] up the rule book” after the European Commission backed Italy’s request to block a shipment of coronavirus vaccines.

Media reported on Thursday that the European Commission, the bloc’s powerful unelected executive arm, headed by former German defence minister Ursula von der Leyen, backed Rome’s request to ban the shipment of 250,000 doses from its Anagni plant because of the “continuing shortage of vaccines in the EU and in Italy and delays in supplies from AstraZeneca to the EU and Italy,” according to the Italian foreign ministry. The seized doses are expected to be redistributed across the EU27.

The Australian government signalled on Friday that it would not affect the country’s overall rollout, as it had doses expected from other plants. The country’s finance minister, Simon Birmingham, appeared to give a veiled criticism of the EU, however, telling Sky News Australia: “The world is in unchartered territory at present — it’s unsurprising that some countries would tear up the rule book.

“This is a demonstration of really how well Australia continues to do compared to the desperation of other countries.”

Australia’s prime minister, Scott Morrison, struck a generous note in which he appeared to sympathise with the plight of the Europeans, who under the leadership of von der Leyen and the bloated bureaucracy of the EU have experienced severe delays in their vaccine programme. While the nearby Brexit Britain has given doses to some 30 per cent of its population, the EU has barely managed eight per cent on average.

Prime Minister Morrison said: “This particular shipment was not one we’d counted on for the rollout, and so we will continue unabated.”

“In Italy, people are dying at the rate of 300 a day. And so I can certainly understand the high level of anxiety that would exist in Italy and in many countries across Europe,” Morrison said.

“They are in an unbridled crisis situation. That is not the situation in Australia,” he added.

Others were far more openly critical of Brussels, including Matthew Lesh of British think tank the Adam Smith Institute, who called the situation “a very clear demonstration of closed, self-interested and nationalistic behaviour. The world should not tolerate this bullying.

“Australia isn’t responsible for the European Union’s failure to secure enough doses or vaccinate across her population — Australia’s most vulnerable shouldn’t have to bear the consequences.”

The bloc introduced export controls on Chinese coronavirus vaccines following initial delays at AstraZeneca’s European plants in January.

While the Commission initially attempted to blame the drugs maker for the delays — even demanding British-made vaccines be sent to Europe to make up the shortfall — it was revealed by the company’s CEO that European plants were behind because the EU delayed in signing a contract with AstraZeneca, some three months after the United Kingdom.

That was said to have impacted the development of laboratory processes in Europe, meaning a shortfall in the initial batch expected by Brussels.

Britain took a gamble by investing in vaccines early which paid off, meaning that at one point during last month, more people in the United Kingdom had had a dose of the vaccine than in the whole European Union combined.

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