Coronavirus

What the AstraZeneca debacle says about the EU

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The EU often portrays itself as being above things such as nationalism and competitiveness. Instead, it wishes to be seen as leading the fight for globalism and global cooperation. Therefore, it was with great surprise that many learned last week, that when push comes to shove, the EU can play dirty even when people’s lives are at stake.

I am, of course, referring to the EU’s vaccine debacle and their demands of AstraZeneca, the company which is producing one of the many variations of a Covid vaccine.

Last week, AstraZeneca, the British-Swedish company that is producing one of the Covid vaccines, announced that its first quarter deliveries of the vaccine would fall more than 50% short of the EU’s expectations. Their reasoning was that given the EU had signed an agreement with them much later than the UK, they were still struggling to overcome difficulties in the supply chain and as Britain had come to them first, it was only natural that the UK would get the vaccines first.

The EU naturally wasn’t happy about this and insisted that the company had to fulfill its ‘moral, contractual and societal obligations,’ and that the company had to use its British factories to make up for any shortfall. 

What followed on from that statement can only be described as the EU throwing a tantrum of disconcerting proportions. First there were claims by German officials that the vaccine itself wasn’t that effective for those over 65. Then there was French President Emmanuel Macron criticising the UK’s vaccine rollout strategy, whilst casually ignoring that the UK has given more people the first dose of a vaccine than any other European country. 

Even after the EU had given approval to the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine, they continued to act like petulant children. In an attempt to prevent vaccines moving into Britain via the Irish border, the EU initiated Article 16 of the Brexit Protocol, which allowed them to take unilateral action to prevent the bloc experiencing any more negative consequences.

This was quite rightly seen as a drastic step to take, given that Article 16 is supposed to be a weapon of absolute last resort. What is even more surprising is that the EU apparently didn’t even bother to inform Irish Taoiseach Micheál Martin that they were going to do this.

Indeed, Martin has said he first heard about the move in a public statement that had been made, and that after hearing about it he quickly engaged in lengthy discussions with Ursula Von De Leyen, the leader of the EU Commission. This eventually led to the EU withdrawing its invocation of Article 16.

The EU has also passed a regulation telling customs agents to block exports of Covid-19 vaccines to many richer countries such as the UK, unless they receive an export authorization. Some of the countries that are excluded from the export block include EFTA countries such as Norway and Iceland along with the Western Balkans. The regulation will also force vaccine makers to disclose which countries they have shipped vaccines to in the past three months.

Something that should alarm anyone who claims to be in favour of free trade given its rather sinister undertones and the sense of a protectionist racket being put into force.

The EU’s actions since the beginning of last week have shown that it is not the benign bloc of countries it so often likes to portray itself as. Indeed, it has shown that when push comes to shove it can be as ruthless and as cutthroat as any actual nation, regardless of there being a pandemic. 

In trying to invoke Article 16 of the Brexit Protocol without informing the Irish Taoiseach, the EU acted as an imperial power, viewing common courtesy as an inconvenience to be discarded with. That is quite the change from how it viewed Ireland during Brexit negotiations, when Ireland could be used as a convenient stick to hit Britain with. 

In slapping export regulations and demanding companies inform the EU of where they’ve exported vaccines in the past three months, the EU is acting like a mafia boss trying to control a valued commodity that everyone needs. 

If we learn anything from this whole debacle, it is that the EU can no longer claim the moral high ground. It is just as dirty as the rest of the nations that exist. 

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