EU civil war: Vaccine row erupts amid battle to replace Merkel – EU states turn on Berlin
Germany: There's 'frustration' over vaccine rollout says expert
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Campaigning politicians vying to replace German Chancellor Angela Merkel have attacked the botched EU Covid jabs programme amid concerns it is lagging behind Britain, the United States and Israel. They’re engaged in a furious blame game over why Germany is not moving faster despite building up a system capable of mass vaccination. And EU insiders have claimed the bitter in-fighting over the vaccine scheme across Germany has plunged decision-making processes in Brussels into a state of disarray.
Bavarian state premier Markus Soder, one of the leading candidates to replace Mrs Merkel, claimed the EU’s vaccine scheme had been “disappointing” and accompanied “by many misjudgements”.
Finance minister Olaf Scholz said the European Commission had bungled the rollout because of mixed priorities.
He said: “If the Commission had asked us for more funding, we would have sent additional money to the EU.”
Ursula von der Leyen, the German president of the European Commission, has taken responsibility for the slow rates of vaccination across the bloc.
She has claimed eurocrats were too slow to sign contracts with vaccine manufacturers and eventually became embroiled in a row with UK-based AstraZeneca after the firm had to reduce its shipment to member states because of production hiccups.
But Mrs von der Leyen, who is a member of Mrs Merkel’s CDU, has defended the delays, insisting the bloc’s future depended on a more cautious approach.
As Germany’s leadership contest hots up, Mr Soder has turned on health minister Jens Spahn, who is also in the race, for backing the EU’s shambolic scheme.
Mr Spahn has been supportive of Brussels’ centralised approach to vaccine procurement from the start.
He also was one of the most senior voices calling for an export ban on vaccines being shipped away from the bloc.
Mrs von der Leyen eventually announced plans for an “export transparency mechanism” that would allow eurocrats to stop firms from sending jabs abroad.
But the move sparked a diplomatic row after the Commission threatened a hard border on Ireland to stop vaccines leaking into Britain via the backdoor.
Mrs von der Leyen made a drastic U-turn on the policy after complaints from Dublin, Belfast and the Westminster Government.
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European sources say that the Commission chief made the hasty move because of mounting pressure from Berlin.
“Certainly this toxic debate in German contributed to a certain extent,” an EU diplomat told the Politico website.
And Clement Beaune, France’s European affairs minister, said the row in Berlin meant the EU scheme was subject to an unfair level of criticism.
He said: “There’s a strong national dimension that plays into appraisals of the way Europe has managed vaccines.
“First of all because it is always easier to attack the European level. Then because in Germany, the pre-election context and the fact that Ursula von der Leyen comes from German politics focuses even more attention and criticism on the EU.”
The German media has been particularly scathing of the Brussels-led vaccine scheme, calling it a “disaster” for the country.
Bild, Germany’s most popular daily publication, launched a personal attack on EU health commissioner Stella Kyriakides.
It branded the top eurocrat lazy and said the Cypriot lacked the necessary experience and qualifications to be left in charge of the bloc’s vaccine scheme.
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The publication claimed Ms Kyriakides has just “put her feet up” last year instead of working hard to procure life-saving jabs for member states.
And now EU officials are preparing themselves for criticism to intensify as the campaign to replace Mrs Merkel continues.
One source said: “Currently the hope is that the situation will calm down as more and more vaccines will become available in the coming months and the pandemic situation improves.
“But if it continues on this bumpy path, this has just been a foretaste of how brutal the German election will become for Brussels.”
German economist Guntram Wolff, of the Bruegel think-tank in Brussels, predicted frustrations at the EU’s vaccine scheme will continue to boil over while Britain races ahead.
He said: “There’s wide disappointment that the vaccine is still not available in larger quantities, even though it has been developed at home.
“People simple see that things can be done better. And they find that disappointing.”
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