Von der Leyen claims EU would have collapsed if nations followed UK’s speedy jab rollout
Ursula von der Leyen calls EU ‘team Europe’
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The European Commission President said the sluggish distribution of Covid jabs was necessary to preserve unity across the 27-nation project. In an address to the European Parliament, Mrs von der Leyen said: “I cannot even imagine what would have happened if just a handful of big players, big member states had rushed to it and everybody else would have been left empty-handed. What would that have meant for our internal market and for the unity of Europe? It would have been, I think, the end of our community.”
The Brussels chief, who has taken personal charge of the EU’s vaccine scheme, is facing calls to quit from MEPs over the shambles.
While the bloc lags behind Britain, Mrs von der Leyen said she had made the right decision not to follow Britain to fast-track authorisation for the use of vaccines across the bloc.
She said: “We have made a choice to not take any shortcuts when it comes to safety or efficacy. We fully defend that choice.
“There is no compromise possible when it is a matter of injecting a biologically active substance into an individual who is in good health.”
Her defence came after figures showed Britain had jabbed more people than the entire EU put together.
A total 12.65 Britons have had their first dose of a coronavirus vaccine, compared to just 12.18 million across the 27-nation bloc.
The NHS is vaccinating people at almost five-times the rate of Europe, with almost a fifth of people having at least one jab.
Italian MEP Marco Zanni warned the bloc’s economy would be left in ruin unless vaccinations are dished out quicker.
He fumed: “We’ve lost time, a lot of lost ground as well. Those who are vaccinated first will emerge first from the economic crisis.
“Our competitors outside of the EU – India, China, the UK – are moving forward much, much more quickly on this particular front.”
And French MEP Manon Aubry demanded a formal investigation into how the Commission has handed the EU’s joint procurement of Covid vaccines.
She said: “We have the right to know. After all, these vaccines were paid for with our money.”
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Dutch MEP Derk-Jan Eppink added: “You are politically responsible. But you don’t take responsibility and blame others. Resign is my call!”
Mrs von der Leyen also found herself in hot water after attempting to apologise for threatening the Northern Ireland peace process to block vaccine shipments to Britain.
She conceded she had made a “mistake” by planning to impose a hard border in Ireland.
She desperately made the move, which inflamed tensions in the region, to prevent Covid jabs entering the UK via the backdoor amid growing anger over the bloc’s shambolic scheme.
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“The bottom line is that mistakes were made leading up to the decision and I deeply regret that,” Mrs von der Leyen told the European Parliament.
“In the end, we got it right and I can reassure you that my Commission will do its utmost to protect the peace on Northern Ireland, just as it has done through the entire Brexit process.”
The top eurocrat eventually made a dramatic U-turn on her plan to introduce checks on the Irish border after protests from Dublin, Belfast and Westminster – who learnt of the decision from social media.
Furious Irish MEPs called on Mrs von der Leyen for guarantees that the EU will never again seek to trigger Article 16 of the Brexit deal’s Northern Ireland Protocol to prevent a hard border.
Chris MacManus, of Sinn Fein, said: “It is unacceptable that the Commission didn’t see the portent of destabilising the withdrawal treaty and the Good Friday Agreement by proposing the use of Article 16.
“Now we must ensure the fiasco isn’t repeated. Part of that is picking up the phone to Dublin.”
Green party MEP Grace O’Sullivan added: “President, you did not get it right. What concrete steps will you put in place to assure the people of Ireland – North and South – that the delicate situation on the island of Ireland is never threatened again?”
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