Having Incorrectly Accused Britain of Banning Vaccine Exports, EU Now Moves to Ban Vaccine Exports Itself

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen getures during a press conference following a college meeting to introduce draft legislation on a common EU Covid-19 vaccination certificate at the EU headquarters in Brussels on March 17, 2021. (Photo by JOHN THYS / POOL / AFP) (Photo by JOHN THYS/POOL/AFP via …
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Europe’s floundering commission boss Ursula von der Leyen has threatened that the bloc would use emergency powers to seize shipments of vaccines — powers that would even allow it to seize vaccine factories — meant for people outside of the European Union if it doesn’t get its own way on dose numbers.

The European Union may invoke emergency wartime-style powers to seize private property to shore up its own position after months of mistakes and incompetence has left the bloc and its members trailing the world in the race to get vaccinated against Coronavirus, it has said. Making clear no option is off the table, the bloc has said “we are ready to use whatever tool we need” to make up for its failures so far in facing “the crisis of the century”.

Commission president Ursula von der Leyen — the Merkel protégé who went from being the scandal-struck German defence secretary to being one of the most powerful women in Europe — has said it is not fair that factories in Europe are exporting to non-European nations who are capable of producing vaccines themselves.

Giving a statement on the Commission’s response to the situation on Wednesday, von der Leyen reopened the feud with the United Kingdom on the supply of vaccines, saying the bloc would punish nations that show insufficient “openness”, or which were well ahead of the European Union on vaccination levels. Speaking in Brussels, the Commission President said:

…open roads run in both directions. … If the situation does not change, we will have to reflect on how to make exports to vaccine-producing countries dependent on their level of openness. So we are exporting a lot to countries that are themselves producing vaccines. And we think this is an invitation to be open. So that we also see exports from those countries coming back to the European Union.

And the second point that is of importance for us: We will reflect on whether exports to countries, who have higher vaccination rates than us, are still proportionate. In other words, we want reliable deliveries of vaccines, we want to see increases in the contracts, we want to see reciprocity and proportionality in exports. And we are ready to use whatever tool we need to deliver on that. This is about making sure that Europe gets its fair share.

The EU’s Article 122 powers — already discussed earlier this year as an option to claw back Europe’s position — haven’t been used since the 1970s oil crisis, The Times reports. The draconian wartime-type charter would allow the EU to nullify intellectual property rights and seize private property including factories and supplies of vaccines going overseas.

The comments have been interpreted as a direct threat to the United Kingdom, which was not referred to by name in this speech but which has been at the forefront of criticism by the EU in recent weeks, sometimes in error. The British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said von der Leyen’s comments “takes some explaining”, Sky News reports, because Britain has signed legal contracts with pharma firms for deliveries and it expects those to be respected.

Rejecting the idea that countries that had launched successful vaccination programmes should be punished by the EU for doing better than them, Mr Raab called von der Leyen’s comments “brinkmanship” characteristic of nations with undemocratic “regimes”.

Getting access to vaccinations for its member states has been a difficult, and at times deeply humiliating process for the European Union which has seen it burn huge political capital with its closest supporters. After Europhiles sneered at the United Kingdom for going it alone as doomed to get vaccines later and more expensively than the bloc because it would miss out on the collective bargaining power and sheer clout the EU could offer, the newly independent country outmanoeuvred the Union at every turn.

As the bloc took control of the ordering of vaccines for its member states in 2020, it lost months to bureaucratic inertia and fruitless negotiations, during which time other nations like the UK, U.S., and Israel signed contracts and moved onto preparing for production. In the end, the European Union was three months behind Britain getting agreements signed, a factor which has been cited as crucial in slowing the progress of pharmaceutical plants in Europe to produce the drugs.

The EU has subsequently attempted to block vaccine exports to Britain, accused Britain of blocking exports to Europe, acknowledged that Britain hasn’t actually banned the export of vaccines, before immediately again implying that actually, Britain wasn’t exporting vaccines. That claim was repeated today. Meanwhile, the United Kingdom has vaccinated 36 per cent of its population while the Union hasn’t even yet hit 10 per cent.

The United Kingdom may face problems of its own. The NHS warned a “significant reduction” in the number of vaccines available in the country was on the horizon as there has been a “reduction in national inbound vaccines supply”. The health secretary Matt Hancock said it was normal for supply to be “lumpy” and that irrespective of the NHS letter, the country was still ahead of its own vaccine targets.

Nevertheless, the constriction of imports underlies how reliant the United Kingdom is on foreign factories and how the European Union could elect to punish “speedboat” Britain by cutting off supplies.

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