The struggle to replace Angela Merkel has sparked furor over the EU’s coronavirus vaccination strategy.
While some EU members don’t seem too concerned left behind The United States, Britain and Israel are on the vaccination rate, German politicians are engaged in an angry blaming game over why their countries are not moving faster.
Adding spices to the mix: Prominent protagonists are likely Merkel’s successors after the September general elections, including Bavarian state Prime Minister Markus Söder, Health Minister Jens Spahn and Finance Minister Olaf Scholz. Germany is in campaign mode almost non-stop this year, with six regional elections as well as a national vote.
Some EU officials and diplomats say the European Commission, under its German president, Ursula von der Leyen, is paying too much attention to pressure from Germany and is rushing to make bad decisions. They also expressed concern that the EU is taking a public beating because it is suitable for some German politicians to attack Brussels.
Driven by Berlin and several other EU capitals, von der Leyen moved hastily last month to impose export controls on vaccines after Anglo-Swedish company AstraZeneca said it would deliver a much smaller dose than planned. That sparked a political storm as his plans included ruling out parts of a Brexit deal meant to maintain peace on the Irish island.
Von der Leyen – the former German defense minister who brought two close aides from Berlin to form the core of his inner circle in Brussels – is forced to turn back late into the night, damaging its own credibility and the reputation of the Commission.
“There is pressure from Berlin,” said Michael Link, former German minister for European affairs from the liberal Free Democrats. “And I think, in the midst of that pressure, von der Leyen lost his instinct for what was right for Europe. He made a fatal mistake that should never have happened.”
Von der Leyen’s focus on German public opinion was evident in the days surrounding the export control disaster. Earlier on Friday the Commission published its plan, he said appear on the German national radio station Deutschlandfunk. He ended the weekend with Interview on the German TV station ZDF.
“Of course this toxic debate in Germany contributed to some extent” to the Irish failure, said a senior EU diplomat.
Asked about export controls and the possible influence of German politics on its decision, a Commission spokesman said “the Commission has always been in close contact with member states” but Irish actions “came about during internal discussions at the Commission.”
The Commission also attempted to deflect criticism that von der Leyen was too focused on the German media by inviting journalists from other media for group interviews in the weeks following the turnaround.
Clément Beaune, France’s Minister for European Affairs, suggested the German debate meant that the EU was getting more than its fair share of criticism.
“There is a strong national dimension that plays a role in assessing the way Europeans administer vaccines,” said Beaune. “First of all because it’s 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 more attention and criticism on the European Union.”
For a country that takes great pride in its reputation for efficiency and tops prestigious international rankings, lagging behind Britain and others in vaccination bets has touched nerves – especially after Germany was widely praised for handling the first wave of the coronavirus.
“There is great disappointment that a vaccine is still not available in larger quantities, even though it has been developed at home,” said Guntram Wolff, a German economist who is director of the Bruegel think tank in Brussels. could be done better. And they feel disappointed. “
Much of the criticism of the EU has come from parties within Merkel’s government, such as the Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU) – the sister party of the chancellor’s Christian Democrats (CDU) – and the center-left Social Democrats (SPD).
The leader of Bavaria, Söder, owns it criticized the EU’s approach as “disappointing” and “accompanied by a lot of misjudgment.”
Scholz, the finance minister who also serves as deputy chancellor and is the SPD’s official candidate to replace Merkel, accused Brussels of having set the wrong priorities: “If the Commission asks us for more funding, we will send additional money to the EU,” he said. was told newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung.
Meanwhile, the Commission insists that more money will not result in more vaccines and blames the delay in delivery in large part manufacturing problem. It is also maintained takes longer to close the contract with vaccine makers than several countries, arguing that it is necessary to encourage drug makers to take responsibility for their products. Finally, they have stuck to a vaccine approval process that is said to be stricter than others, even if it takes longer.
Meanwhile, for Scholz and his Social Democrats, the criticism offers an opportunity to attack the Christian Democrats, who are most closely tied to the EU strategy in German politics. Merkel, von der Leyen and Spahn are all CDU politicians.
And because the CDU / CSU leading the polls has not yet chosen a candidate for chancellor, politicians in the alliance have a strong incentive to talk about the so-called “vaccine disaster” in Germany.
Söder’s criticism of the EU can also be seen as blaming Spahn, who was involved in formulating the bloc’s strategy as health minister.
Spahn has emphasized that he is pushing from the start for proactive vaccine procurement – first by forming alliances with France, Italy and the Netherlands, then by advocating for the purchase of the more expensive BioNTech / Pfizer jab despite resistance from EU partners. He also between that led calls for control of vaccine exports not long before the Commission pulled the trigger.
German outrage over the vaccination launch has also spread to Brussels in the form of an attack by Bild, Germany’s most popular daily, on European Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides.
The newspaper claims that the Cypriot politician lacks the necessary qualifications and influence – and that he does “lift her legs” last year when he was supposed to be busy providing vaccines for the EU. The tabloid even sent a team to Nicosia to submit stories and live videos in front of the Kyriakides villa.
Asked about the criticism, the Commission said Kyriakides was “fully aware of the concerns and concerns of Europeans about the pandemic” and “is working 24/7 to ensure that vaccines are produced and delivered as quickly as possible.”
An EU official said that Brussels should prepare for more heat from Germany as the election campaign escalates.
“At the moment the hope is that the situation will calm down as more vaccines will be available in the coming months and the pandemic situation improves,” the official said. “But if this continues on this bumpy road, this is only a preliminary picture of how brutal the German elections in Brussels are.”
Rym Momtaz contributed reporting.
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