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EU and Ursula von der Leyen's dilemma
A chara, - Stephen Collins is usually a good weathervane of Irish establishment thinking, so it was interesting to read his comments on Ursula von der Leyen ("Doubts grow over Von der Leyen's stewardship", Opinion, & Analysis, March 26th).

The EU member states only gave the commission a mandate to negotiate vaccine contracts on their behalf last June, long after Donald Trump's "Warp Speed" initiative and the UK's vaccine procurement efforts had begun. They did so to avoid the chaos of the earlier personal protection equipment procurement chaos which had member states competing against each other for scarce supplies.

Some member states were also wary of the commission awarding contracts to vaccine producers in other member states and others were very concerned at the potential cost and legal liability issues should unwanted side-effects manifest themselves at a later stage.

No vaccine had been approved for use at this stage and there was considerable uncertainty as to which vaccine candidates would prove efficacious and safe.

As the commission has only very limited competency in healthcare matters and no previous experience of vaccine procurement or emergency response preparation, Ms Von der Leyen put an experienced trade negotiator in charge of the procurement negotiations. Trade negotiations typically take years to complete, proceed at a glacial pace, and require unanimity among the member states to conclude.

In the circumstances, it was remarkable that the commission concluded an extensive range of vaccine procurement contracts within a few months of being given a mandate to do so. It did so in legally binding agreements including "best efforts" clauses common in such agreements.

The US and UK adopted an America first and Britain first approach to vaccine procurement while criticising the EU for "vaccine nationalism", even though the EU has exported more vaccine doses than it has given to its own citizens.

As this week's meeting of the European Council showed, it is doubtful the member states would have given the commission a more robust mandate to secure priority vaccine supplies for their own citizens. Several member states, including Ireland, opposed the commission's proposal to institute vaccine export controls, citing concerns it could undermine the supply of raw materials for vaccine production in the EU.

Only time will tell whether these concerns are overdone, and whether the EU could have done more to prioritise vaccines for its own citizens, especially when many of those vaccines have gone to Israel and the UK, which are far more advanced in vaccinating their general populations, and not just those most at risk.

But it seems clear that the primary fault lies not with Ms von der Leyen, but with a general EU reluctance to undermine international trading rules even as their own citizens are dying in increasing numbers.

The commission may not have been well prepared to conduct its first pharmaceutical procurement negotiations, and even less prepared for an emergency response role, but if that is to become an ongoing role for the commission, it needs to be given a clearer and more timely mandate to develop those capabilities.

Making a scapegoat out of Ursula von der Leyen may suit some national governments, but it does nothing for the future of the EU. - Yours, etc,,

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Tue Mar 30th, 2021 at 11:26:37 PM EST

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