Vaccine politics: another missed chance or a step in the right direction? – The Weekly 40

Throughout its history, the European Union has often been criticized for being too slow to act united despite all the nice talk, and for being even slower to take real action in situations where a united European stance would have indeed been justified and significant. We may go as far as to say that the European community was perhaps too forward-looking when the idea of the union was conceived.

The concept needed time to “take hold”, while the European countries needed to understand that there was an increasing amount of problems they could only solve if they acted together.

However, the issue of the lockdown-related economic difficulties posed the question to European states more clearly than ever: are they able to realize that they cannot overcome this crisis unless they show solidarity and join their forces? Though somewhat haltingly and hesitantly, Europe eventually grabbed the opportunity and adopted the economic recovery plan, thus demonstrating that the union is capable of acting beyond the political slogans and able to show joint tangible results.

The same question emerged with regard to the healthcare management of the pandemic: will they show solidarity and make a coordinated effort in vaccine distribution? Obviously, European countries have strikingly different leverage in vaccine procurement according to their population and economic weight, should they decide to negotiate deals on their own. However, if we really want to leave this difficult period behind, Europe must not have any “black holes”; in other words, we cannot accept that the inhabitants of some countries can get vaccines easily, while others can’t at all. This would go against the idea of European solidarity as well as any rational consideration for economic and political stability.

That’s why the European Commission’s commitment to negotiate vaccine procurement and distribution to the twenty-seven member states could be considered as a historic step.

It would have allowed the EC to kill two birds with one stone: firstly, it could have demonstrated the unity of Europe, where it doesn’t matter if you are a citizen of a small or big member state and secondly, it could have protected the health of 450 million European people.

Opinions are divided as to whether the “grand plan” succeeded or not. Doubts typically stem from the EC’s far-from-perfect efforts in terms of implementation. Unfortunately, the EC failed to get rid of an enormous and recurring problem of the Europe project: the lack of transparency. The work of Ursula von der Leyen and her team was neither transparent nor controllable. This is clearly an aggravating factor when the outcome is far from convincing, too. Despite all the efforts, the EU is lagging behind: as of today, only three per cent of the population has been vaccinated, which is terrifyingly low, while European people are at the end of their tolerance for lockdowns (quite understandably so).

To make matters worse, the EU, instead of giving an example of unity and solidarity, played into the populists’ hands with its hesitance and lack of transparency: just take a look at Viktor Orbán who got yet another card to distance Hungary from Europe and drag our country closer to Russia and China. There was also the issue of the Northern Ireland Protocol, where the EU’s imposed vaccine export controls quasi managed to restore a border, something we have been trying to avoid for three years. Not to mention that while China and Russia have included vaccine diplomacy in their political toolkit, Europe will hardly become a “Covax” champion if it even fails to vaccinate its own population. From this point of view, Europe’s vaccine procurement may seem like a total failure.

Then why isn’t it actually? Simply because if the European Commission had not taken on the task, the situation could be even worse and the contrast between the European countries could be even starker. 

So our cup is half full and half empty. As to how you evaluate all this, it’s a matter of personal opinion.

However, those who don’t just consider Europe as an opportunity in lack of a better option and want to see a dynamic community able to respond to the world’s challenges and multiply the power of its members rather than just as a ponderous political organization that creaks and cracks at times, they indeed need to draw the necessary conclusions and ask the inconvenient question: who is responsible for this ambivalent outcome? This is the only way to move forward. - JOBBIK MEP MÁRTON GYÖNGYÖSI

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