Vaccines: Europe is ‘so far behind UK’ says professor
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Friends of Europe said the health crisis had already overwhelmed Ms von der Leyen’s presidency of the European Commission and undermined the credibility of the bloc itself as well as putting any future European integration at risk. Director Giles Merritt warned Ms von der Leyen must stop repeating the same mistakes and urged her to tone down her attacks on Boris Johnson and the British drug firm AstraZeneca.
The Commission president must stop repeating the same mistakes
Mr Merritt said: “President Von der Leyen cuts a sympathetic picture at the lectern; she is articulate and has won widespread recognition as figurehead of the EU’s efforts to contain COVID-19.
“But that’s not her role – she shouldn’t be standing in front of the media.
“Her job is to be the commission’s chief strategist, not its spokesperson.”
Mr Merrit said Ms von der Leyen should have appointed one or more commissioners to lead a tactical force to handle the crisis when the sheer scale of the pandemic became clear a year ago.
And he said she should have sacked the Eurocrats who mishandled vaccine procurement on behalf of the EU’s member states.
Mr Merrit said the EU chief should call an immediate halt to her war of words with Boris Johnson and retreat from the sanctions and export bans levelled against AstraZeneca.
He said: “The Commission president must stop repeating the same mistakes.
“The coming three years could save not only her reputation but also the fortunes of the EU.
“Europhiles often speak of the EU’s ‘soft power’, but its’ ‘convening power’ counts as much.
“Yet here the Brussels institutions – and in present circumstances that chiefly means the commission – have been inert.”
He continued: “As the global scale of the crisis became plain, the commission should have deployed its political firepower to support a coordinated international response.
“Von der Leyen’s priority should be to rally EU governments around a detailed strategy for the post-Covid geo-economy.
“The EU is uniquely well-placed to launch a global debate on how to head-off future pandemics that might be even more dangerous.
“As to the here and now, trade and aid questions within the EU and beyond must be addressed before rather than after Covid’s full damage is done.”
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Mr Merrit said the EU should now champion mechanisms for softening the pandemic’s longer-term impact, notably on emerging markets that are already drowning in debt.
He said: “US President Joe Biden is preoccupied with his domestic strategy to contain COVID-19 while also repairing deep rifts in American society.
“His administration lacks the bandwidth to tackle a more international approach, but it would unstintingly support one masterminded by the European Union.
“That’s the prize within the EU’s grasp if Ursula von der Leyen can rally Europe’s heads of government to a global Covid counter-attack.”
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