In a recent article, British conservative daily The Telegraph has confronted EU leaders with serious facts: Hungary, Austria, Denmark, the Czech Republic, Poland, and Slovakia have broken with the EU’s unified vaccine strategy, and that is big news.
Brussels is heavily criticized for failing to procure vaccines, and Austria and Denmark — as well as Hungary and the Czech Republic since the article was published — are negotiating with Israel, while many Central and Eastern European countries are also turning to China and Russia for vaccines. According to the author, all this shows that Europe is starting to become geopolitically irrelevant.
The overwhelming criticism is, of course, hardly independent of the debates over AstraZeneca, but it doesn’t change the point: joint EU vaccine procurement has not been a success story. It can be said, of course, that if member states started to compete for vaccines individually, the situation would be even worse, but that does not diminish the failure itself.
Indeed, more and more member states have expressed their anger with Brussels. Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz recently held a joint press conference with the prime ministers of Czechia, Slovenia and Bulgaria where he called for a correction mechanism to remedy the disparities in distribution, and urged the European Commission to show the solidarity that it so often preaches.
The system is slow and the contracts are obviously bad, as the EU really doesn’t know what to do if manufacturers don’t deliver on time or fall short on the promised quantities. The Commission is, of course, pointing to the manufacturers, sometimes to the member states, but it has serious problems with taking responsibility.
As Prime Minister Viktor Orbán put it recently, “Brussels has botched vaccine purchases, and if Hungary had not ordered vaccination from the East, the country would be in big trouble now.”
As in the case of the migration crisis, the Hungarian prime minister’s proposal for a solution was initially criticized and later adopted by others. It has become clear that whoever is just waiting for the Union to come to the rescue is making a huge mistake. The Hungarian representatives of Brussels, that is, the liberal side, of course, insist that we will be vaccinated in months, otherwise we will take the country out of Europe, but they will be left alone with their dangerous idiocy.
The already battered crisis management reputation of Brussels obviously cannot withstand another fiasco. The migration crisis has already demonstrated that we have a major perceptional problem. It took them years to finally at least consider the solutions and proposals that the leaders of member states said hundreds of times.
They may have, over the years, finally arrived at the idea of flexible solidarity, but were unable to ditch the failed concept of a compulsory distribution quota — a plan that not only did not solve the migration crisis, but outright aggravated it by sending an invitation to migrants, gave arguments to human traffickers who first rid people of their property and then set them on their way in a dinghy all in the hope that a Soros-ship somewhere will pick them up.
Will there be self-correction in Brussels, will the Commission remember? We do not yet know this, but I certainly do say that the European Parliament is still busy working out how to best punish Hungary and Poland. They conduct blackmail and threaten the European Commission to enforce the withdrawal of budgetary funds without a court decision.
Meanwhile, the Hungarian left-liberals enthusiastically applaud all this.
Title image: European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen speaks during a media conference on the Commission’s response to COVID-19 at EU headquarters in Brussels, Wednesday, March 17, 2021. (John Thys, Pool via AP)