Guy Verhofstadt discusses 'weaknesses' within the EU
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The Belgian MEP claimed the European Commission president was tied up with other problems – brutally adding that some were “self-inflicted”. Meanwhile, Mr Verhofstadt said, urgent action is needed to protect free speech in Hungary and Poland.
The MEP tweeted: “While the @vonderleyen Commission is muddling through a number of crises (some self-inflicted), the state of democracy, freedom and the rule of law in several EU countries is seriously backsliding…
“Act now, before free speech in Poland and Hungary goes black for good!”
Mr Verhofstadt’s tweet was in response to a news blackout on Wednesday by some Polish newspapers and websites in protest against a proposed tax on advertising revenue which has sparked fears of a crackdown on media critical of the government.
The Belgian MEP’s dig at Mrs von der Leyen comes as Brussels has faced heavy criticism over its coronavirus vaccine rollout.
The bloc plunged itself into an extraordinary row with pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca over supply shortages.
The EU sparked a backlash from across the political spectrum when it threatened to override part of the Brexit deal on Northern Ireland to prevent jabs crossing the border from Ireland.
Brussels was forced into a humiliating U-turn after briefly triggering Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Chief Brexit negotiator Lord Frost hit out at the bloc for struggling to accept a “genuinely independent actor in their neighbourhood”.
He told the Lords European Union Committee on Tuesday: “We said ad nauseum last year during the negotiations that we wanted friendly cooperation between sovereign equals as our vision of the future and that’s still what we want.
“I don’t think that’s been quite the experience of the last few weeks if we’re honest about it.
“I think the EU is still adjusting somewhat, as we thought they might, to the existence of a genuinely independent actor in their neighbourhood and obviously there’s been a certain amount of disagreement over the vaccine issues which in many ways have created political difficulties on the EU side.”
Earlier this month, arch-Remainer Lord Adonis turned on Mrs von der Leyen over the vaccine farce.
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The Labour peer shared a quote from Mrs von der Leyen insisting the EU was right to work together on its vaccine rollout, which has come under fire for being sluggish.
Lord Adonis said: “As you know I’m a strong pro-European, but she doesn’t get it.”
His tweet was prompted by Mrs von der Leyen’s attempt to defend the EU’s slow vaccine programme – compared to the UK’s rollout which has seen more than 13 million people receive their first jab.
Speaking to French newspaper La Croix, the former German defence minister said: “I am aware that alone a country can be a speedboat, while the EU is more like a tanker.
“Before concluding a contract with a pharmaceutical company, the 27 member states had five full days to say whether they agreed or not. This naturally delays the process.
“Indeed, we must constantly put pressure on ourselves so that each step of the decision-making process is as fast and efficient as possible.
“But I am absolutely convinced that the European approach is the right one. On these vaccines, we worked faster than usual.
“I can’t even imagine what it would have meant for Europe, in terms of unity, if one or more member states had access to vaccines and not the others.”
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