Tony Blair labels Macron’s vaccine comment as ‘incorrect’
The European Commission President led a small task force of officials, mainly from her own team, to draw up the plans in relative secrecy. The blueprint was circulated to her entire team of commissioners only 30 minutes before they were due to approve it. Within minutes of being published online on Friday, the export ban drew criticism for its dramatic attempt to tear up the Brexit divorce deal and impose a hard border on the island of Ireland to prevent vaccines leaking into Britain.
The move sparked uproar in Dublin, London and Belfast, prompting hours of tense diplomatic exchanges to prevent a full-blown fallout.
Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, who has been praised by Ireland for his understanding of the Good Friday Agreement, was not informed of the plans.
Irish premier Micheal Martin said people were “blindsided” by the announcement.
An EU official told the FT: “It’s doubtful any commissioners read it in full or at all.”
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EU diplomats said Mrs von der Leyen’s tight-knit group of decision-makers risked “ruining” the bloc’s credibility over its plans for export controls.
One warned: “Decisions are made too fast and in a narrow circle.”
Even European commissioners spoke publicly to condemn the strategy and dramatic U-turn on Northern Ireland.
Irish commissioner Mairead McGuinness said the events had “not been a good look for the European Commission”.
But she added that Mrs von der Leyen was under no pressure to consider her own position at the bloc’s figurehead.
The row emerged after UK-based AstraZeneca, maker of the Oxford-produced jab, announced it would slash the number of vaccines sent to European member states.
Brussels declared war on the firm, insisting it divert tens of millions of British-made doses to fulfil the bloc’s order.
Mrs von der Leyen was accused of “embarrassing” EU member states by pursuing AstraZeneca so aggressively.
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Peter Tiede, chief political reporter for Germany news daily Bild, said the Commission’s president had disgraced the bloc.
Writing in the Times newspaper, he said: “Von der Leyen started a dispute with the vaccine supplier Astrazeneca, which was supposed to look daredevilish but was just dumb. She has disgraced Europe.
“As Germany’s defence minister, she had already failed miserably in the procurement of helicopters, aircraft and weapons. Angela Merkel ordered her away to the European Commission. Just as Europe has been doing for decades with its discarded political personnel: disposed of like nuclear waste in the final repository of Brussels. That is the story that Johnson has told the British again and again. He, the European populist. Now, we agree with him.
“Worse still, Von der Leyen has either knowingly lied to 447 million Europeans or didn’t know what she was talking about. Both are intolerable.”
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In a separate opinion piece in Germany’s Bild am Sonntag, the publication claimed the “future of the EU is at stake”.
Journalist Thomas Block wrote: “We are experiencing first-hand how the European Union is squandering a historic opportunity and thus the trust of its citizens.
“The EU is hopelessly lagging behind the UK and the US in terms of vaccination speed because it was too late, too bureaucratic and too stingy when it came to ordering vaccines.”
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