Wenn Sie in einem Loch sind, hören Sie auf zu graben. So runs the German translation of what the late Labour politician Denis Healey called his First Law of Holes. To put it in simple English: ‘When you’re in a hole, stop digging.’
I’ve translated it into German on the off chance that the president of the European Commission, the hapless Ursula von der Leyen, happens to glance at today’s Daily Mail.
For after yesterday’s disgraceful intervention in the EU vaccine debacle, Mrs von der Leyen badly needs somebody to take her aside and give her some frank advice.
Let’s start with a bit of context. The EU’s rollout of Covid vaccines has, for weeks now, stumbled from disaster to disaster.
Since the bloc’s vaccine crisis began, Mrs von der Leyen (pictured) has pointed the finger at the British-based pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca – which has manufacturing plants throughout Europe as well as in the UK – for supposedly sending supplies to Britain rather than EU member states
While Britain’s Government moved with lightning speed and an open wallet to line up vaccine supplies from the spring of last year, the sclerotic, shambolic EU was too slow to sign contracts, too slow to license the vaccines and too slow to start vaccinating.
By yesterday morning, the UK had administered 39 doses for every 100 people. Yet Germany, Italy and Spain had administered a pitiful 12 each, with France on 11.
Since the bloc’s vaccine crisis began, Mrs von der Leyen has pointed the finger at the British-based pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca – which has manufacturing plants throughout Europe as well as in the UK – for supposedly sending supplies to Britain rather than EU member states.
And then she went even further. In an extraordinary outburst, she threatened to invoke Article 122, the emergency clause that allows the EU to waive intellectual property rights and patents and to seize factories and take control of the means of production. It’s a quasi-communist tactic that would make a tyrant proud and that would allow her to block the export of vaccines, commandeering jabs ordered for Britons and redirecting them to European citizens.
‘We are in the crisis of the century,’ she said darkly, ‘and I’m not ruling out anything, because we have to make sure that Europeans are vaccinated as soon as possible.’
AstraZeneca, she claimed, was directly to blame, having ‘under-produced and under-delivered’ and ‘reduced the speed of the vaccination campaign’.
While Britain’s Government moved with lightning speed and an open wallet to line up vaccine supplies from the spring of last year, the sclerotic, shambolic EU was too slow to sign contracts, too slow to license the vaccines and too slow to start vaccinating
Even as she was speaking, seasoned Euro-watchers were blinking in disbelief. Was she serious?
Is the EU really proposing to seize control of AstraZeneca’s factories, launching an all-out vaccine war with Britain – over a vaccine that, by the way, most of Europe has suspended on dubious grounds – irrespective of the lives that could be lost?
Well, here’s the good news. I would be astounded if she follows through with such a preposterous threat. She knows the legal, economic and human consequences could be cataclysmic.
The fact is that Mrs von der Leyen is completely out of her depth. A discredited German defence minister, parachuted into Brussels as Chancellor Angela Merkel’s creature, she has utterly failed to rise to the Covid challenge.
It pains me to say this, because female politicians are often held to more exacting standards than their male counterparts, but her outburst yesterday was irrational in the extreme.
In reality, the blame for the EU’s vaccine shambles lies not with AstraZeneca, let alone with Britain, but with its own ineptitude. It has been ludicrously disorganised, lagging well behind Middle Eastern countries such as Israel and Bahrain as well as the hated Anglo-Saxons in Britain and the US.
Their own health officials have told them the AstraZeneca jabs are safe. Both the World Health Organisation and the European Medicines Agency have begged them to carry on using the jabs, rather than leaving so many lives at risk (file image)
And contrary to their disingenuous claims, EU members are currently sitting on at least 7million unused doses. Why unused? Because 19 EU countries, including Germany, France, Italy and Spain, have suspended or impounded the Oxford/AstraZeneca jabs over entirely unfounded rumours that they cause blood clots.
Their own health officials have told them the AstraZeneca jabs are safe. Both the World Health Organisation and the European Medicines Agency have begged them to carry on using the jabs, rather than leaving so many lives at risk. But for the likes of French President Emmanuel Macron, all that matters is to find a scapegoat. It was Mr Macron who claimed – entirely wrongly – that the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab didn’t work on people over 65.
Now he claims it gives you blood clots. Yet at the same time, he has the cosmic effrontery to demand that AstraZeneca hand over its supplies of these supposedly ineffective and dangerous vaccines!
I’ve always been wary of Mr Macron, who strikes me as a remarkably hollow and narcissistic individual. But he is not a fool. So what on earth is going on?
The answer, I think, is that he knows the EU has been found out. For years the Brussels elite has prided itself on its competence and rationality, claiming that by working together and ‘pooling’ sovereignty, to use their dreadful jargon, Europeans would walk taller on the world stage, striking better deals while their rivals fell behind.
The fact is that Mrs von der Leyen is completely out of her depth. A discredited German defence minister, parachuted into Brussels as Chancellor Angela Merkel’s creature, she has utterly failed to rise to the Covid challenge
When Britain voted to leave the club, they sneered at our supposedly self-harming idiocy. And when we declined to join their vaccine scheme, they looked forward to rubbing our unvaccinated noses in the dirt.
Well, we know what happened next. Brexit Britain has vaccinated almost half of all adults. Yet in many European countries, vulnerable, elderly people have yet to be given an appointment for their first jab.
Britain’s success story has been too much for many Eurocrats to stomach, and they have been lying about it ever since.
In an especially egregious moment, the president of the European Council, Charles Michel, even claimed that Britain was hoarding vaccines and refusing to export them – an assertion that turned out to be utterly false.
And all this brings me back to Mrs von der Leyen. For despite her own incompetence, she is merely the face of an entire political class, fatally spoiled by its own insulation from democratic accountability.
If she had any sense, she would indeed stop digging. She would apologise, tell the truth and promise to learn from the EU’s mistakes. Even Boris Johnson managed to apologise yesterday for the impact of Covid in Britain, telling the Commons that he is ‘deeply, deeply sorry’ for the death toll.
But contrition doesn’t seem to be part of the EU’s vocabulary. Instead, lashing out with adolescent petulance, Mrs von der Leyen threatens to seize control of private businesses, as if she can simply steal vaccines that Britain’s Government bought openly, fairly – and smartly.
It is the EU elite who have let down their own people (I say that as somebody who voted Remain).
How long can Mrs von der Leyen be allowed to keep behaving like this? How long before her patron Mrs Merkel decides to intervene and stop her from doing any more damage?
The German Chancellor is a serious politician, as well as a former research chemist. She may not admit it but she knows that the EU has made a terrible mistake. She surely knows an all-out vaccine war would be extraordinarily stupid, and a body blow to ending lockdown restrictions and rebuilding Europe’s economy.
Now, at the end of her political career, isn’t it time for Mrs Merkel to step in and put Ursula von der Leyen – and Europe – out of their misery?
Brussels declares vaccine war on Britain: ‘Stalinist’ threat to seize factories and block exports unless UK hands over more jabs
By Daniel Martin and James Franey for the Daily Mail
Brussels yesterday issued an extraordinary threat to seize factories and block exports unless Britain gives the EU more Covid-19 jabs.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab suggested the bloc was acting like a dictatorship after it effectively declared vaccine war on the UK.
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen warned exports of jabs could be halted to countries with successful rollouts.
Brussels yesterday issued an extraordinary threat to seize factories and block exports unless Britain gives the EU more Covid-19 jabs
She said the EU – which is struggling to inoculate its population – would be prepared to trigger emergency powers to ‘make sure Europeans are vaccinated as soon as possible’ – warning ‘all options are on the table’.
Mrs von der Leyen’s threats came despite the fact that more than a dozen European countries have halted their rollout of the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab over blood clot fears. Last night Mr Raab warned the ‘world was watching’, while ex-Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith called the EU’s position ‘Stalinist’.
The row came just before it emerged Britain itself ifaces a ‘significant reduction’ of its vaccine supplies, with an issue involving the import of AstraZeneca jabs thought to be blame.
At a press conference yesterday, Mrs von der Leyen told reporters in Brussels the EU could make use of powers under the seldom-invoked Article 122 of its treaty. They could potentially be used to seize factories, suspend intellectual property rights for vaccine makers such as AstraZeneca, or block more exports of Pfizer jabs heading for Britain. ‘It is hard to explain to our citizens why vaccines produced in the EU are going to other countries that are also producing vaccines, but hardly anything is coming back,’ she said.
Mrs von der Leyen’s threats came despite the fact that more than a dozen European countries have halted their rollout of the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab over blood clot fears
Boris: I’m getting AZ jab
Boris Johnson backed the AstraZeneca jab as he revealed that he would be vaccinated with it this week.
He told MPs he would be having the Covid-19 vaccine ‘shortly’.
During Prime Minister’s Question Time, Mr Johnson said: ‘I think perhaps the best thing I can say about the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine programme is that I finally got news that I’m going to have my own jab very shortly, I’m pleased to discover. It will certainly be Oxford/AstraZeneca that I will be having.’
Number 10 said Mr Johnson is expected to be vaccinated later this week.
Last night it was unclear whether Downing Street had specifically requested the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine.
Boris Johnson backed the AstraZeneca jab as he revealed that he would be vaccinated with it this week
‘And the second point that is of importance for us is on whether exports to countries who have higher vaccination rates than us are still in proportion. We want to see reciprocity and proportionality in exports, and we are ready to use whatever tools you need to deliver on that. I’m not ruling out anything for now because we have to make sure Europeans are vaccinated as soon as possible.’
But in an astonishing admission, an EU source said ‘no assessment’ of the legal case for using such powers had actually been made by lawyers at the European Council. Charles Michel, the president of the Council, first raised the idea of using the emergency powers – known as Article 122 – in January.
Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine doses for the UK are being produced in BioNTech’s German manufacturing sites, as well as in Pfizer’s manufacturing site in Belgium. However, Britain also gets some of its supply of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine from manufacturing sites on the continent. Any export ban or requisitioning of factories could hit Britain’s supply of both jabs.
Asked about Mrs von der Leyen’s threats yesterday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said Britain had ‘legally’ signed a contract for doses manufactured on the continent, and added: ‘We fully expect those contracts to be delivered upon.’
And Mr Raab said: ‘I think it takes some explaining, because the world’s watching. Frankly, I’m surprised we’re having this conversation. It is normally what the UK and EU team up with to reject when other countries with less democratic views than our own engage in that kind of brinkmanship.’
Sir Iain said the EU was demonstrating a ‘a Stalinist level of direction but tinged with incompetence, chaos and contradictions’.
Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney said: ‘I think it would be a dangerous precedent for the EU to simply prevent the export of products that have been manufactured in the EU for a global market.’ The threats came despite many EU states suspending the use of the Oxford jab over what experts and the European Medecines Agency insist are misplaced fears about blood clots.
England’s deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam last night warned the bloc: ‘Vaccines don’t save lives if they’re in fridges. They only save lives if they’re in arms.’