Ursula von der Leyen announces vaccination rollout across EU
Hans-Olaf Henkel said Brussels was paying the price for its dogmatic insistence on rolling out the vaccine across Europe in a uniform fashion, a decision he suggested had undoubtedly cost lives. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and her colleagues on Friday sought to trigger Article 15 of the Northern Ireland protocol as a result of its row with AstraZeneca over shortfalls in COVID-19 jabs, in a move described by Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster as “an incredible act of hostility”.
The decision was reversed within hours after widespread criticism – but the episode has shone a light on the increasingly antagonistic nature of relations between London and Brussels.
Mr Henkel, who stepped down from the European Parliament in 2019, told Express.co.uk: “If the EU feels that AstraZeneca treats them unfairly it should exploit the normal legal routes against the company and not punish those Governments which were able to negotiate better conditions, higher quantities and faster deliveries.”
In opting take such a drastic step, the EU had gone against its own principles, Mr Henkel said.
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He explained: “Brussels always claims to be an advocate of judicial means to solve conflicts, of global institutions, global rather than bilateral or national deals.
“Why not here? If the EU were to impose export restrictions what would stop say Belgium imposing such restrictions on other EU countries to keep the Biotech vaccines produced there for only Belgian citizens?”
Mr Henkel added: “I am 80 years old and am eagerly awaiting my jab but would hate to get it at the expense of a British citizen who lost his because of such export restrictions imposed by Brussels.”
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Initially, it had seemed other European countries had done a better job of managing the pandemic than the UK, Mr Henkel said.
He added: “However, the management of obtaining and administering the vaccines is another story.
German scientists at Biontech, a company founded by a German couple of Turkish descent, developed the Pfizer vaccine – but Angela Merkel’s government had “abdicated” its responsibility for purchasing a sufficient number of doses in favour of Brussels, Mr Henkel said.
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He added: “That turned out to be a colossal mistake.
“The Commission’s President, the German National Ursula von der Leyen, wanted to demonstrate not only that it could do a better job than the individual countries, she wanted to demonstrate who is in charge.
“While the UK, Canada, Israel and the US reacted quickly, the EU reacted as usual: everybody should be treated equally, even if it takes time. That‘s why the EU lags behind.”
The real scandal was the EU’s decision to prevent members of the EU27 from using emergency procedures to administer the vaccinations already early December 2020 – as happened in the UK – and insisting on them waiting for official approval by the European Medicines Association (EMA), Mr Henkel said.
He added: “How many lives could have been saved if for instance, Germany would have used this procedure as Britain did will never be known.
“But Ms von der Leyen rather enjoyed celebrating her ‘touching moment of European Unity’ when the first jab was administered to the first patient – weeks after the UK.
“This is a perfect example of how Brussels works.
“It is as if the runners in a 3000m long-distance race all agree to arrive at the finish line at the same time.
“There is a lot of unity but the race is very slow.”
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