Von der Leyen miscalculated mood in bid for more power over EU – huge defeat

Ursula von der Leyen on EU Covid digital certificates

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EU countries blocked the adoption of a legal proposal aimed at giving the EU Commission extraordinary powers under HERA, the new health body created to deal with joint reactions to health crises in the bloc.

Austria, Malta, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands and Spain rejected the proposal on Wednesday, delivering a huge blow to Mrs von der Leyen’s power grab ambitions.

An EU diplomat told Politico: “A blocking minority of Austria, Germany, Malta, Ireland, the Netherlands and Spain considered the proposal for the crisis response mechanism HERA not mature enough…because of too little involvement of member states.”

Another diplomat added it was a “defeat for the Commission, which miscalculated the mood” in the Council.

The new body would only be responsible for health coordination in normal times.

But during a pandemic, it would switch to crisis mode, having the power to procure medicines and raw materials while reshoring production capacity to the EU.

Speaking at a news conference on Wednesday, the defeated EU Commission head urged member states to have daily reviews of their travel restrictions and rapid deployment of vaccine booster doses to limit entry and protect citizens from the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

Europe is experiencing a surge of COVID-19 cases and a growing number of infections by the Omicron variant labelled a variant of concern by he World Health Organisation. It has concerned scientists due to its multiple mutations.

Mrs von der Leyen said: “We are facing at the moment a severe double challenge.

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“On one hand, we are amid the fourth wave. On the other hand, we are facing a new threat that is the new variant Omicron.”

The EU executive said that its 27 EU members needed to step up vaccination campaigns, with some 66 percent of the total EU population now inoculated.

Vaccines for children between five and 11 will be eligible to receive vaccines from December 13.

Von der Leyen also said that, with BionTech/Pfizer and Moderna set to deliver 360 million more doses by the end of March, there were boosters available to all those that had received their initial shots.

She added she had understood from drug makers they would require around 100 days to adjust their vaccines if existing jabs did not protect from the Omicron variant.

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Most EU countries have imposed travel bans for residents of South Africa, where Omicron was first detected, along with surrounding southern African countries.

Mrs von der Leyen also floated the idea of making vaccinations mandatory across the bloc.

While admitting the Brussels executive has no power to force member states to impose health rules on their citizens, she urged a discussion on mandatory vaccinations across the bloc should be had as soon as possible.

Mrs von der Leyen said that the challenge posed by the Omicron variant of the coronavirus was a “race against time”, urging all involved to “prepare for the worst”.

Asked whether she would consider making vaccines mandatory across the EU, she replied: “This is pure member states competence, therefore in respect to that it’s not up to me to give any kind of recommendation.

“But if you’re asking me what my personal position is, two-three years ago I would never have thought to witness what we see right now.

“We have this horrible pandemic, we have the life-saving vaccines but they are not being used adequately everywhere.

“And thus, this brings an enormous health cost coming along.

“If you look at the numbers, we have now 77 percent of adults in the European Union who are vaccinated, or if you take the whole population it’s 66 percent.

“And this means one-third of the EU population is not vaccinated. These are 150 million people. This is a lot.

“Not each and everyone can be vaccinated, there are very small children for example or people with special medical conditions.

“But the vast majority could and therefore I think it is understandable and appropriate to lead this discussion now on how we can encourage and potentially think about mandatory vaccination within the EU.

“This needs discussion, a common approach, but it is a discussion that I think has to be had.”

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