Shame on the European Union, Brexit in the dispute over the blockade of vaccines confirmed
Since the coronavirus first hit Europe, the European Commission has doused its own reputation with gasoline. At the end of last week, the bureaucrats running the Commission finally lit the metaphorical match and garlanded the entire European project in the fires of their own incompetence. For the past five years the British and Irish governments have got each other’s throats over Brexit. The same goes for Leavers and Remainers in the UK. The militant wings of Protestant Unionism and Catholic Separatism in Northern Ireland have literally been at war for most of the last century. And yet, within a few hours on Friday, the European Union managed to unite all these groups against itself. The Commission (the executive branch of the European Union) is in a panic about how far the EU has lagged behind both the UK and the United States in the race to vaccinate the public. With the EU only ordering the vaccine from suppliers three months after the UK government, Europeans are now watching millions of European-made doses of vaccine shipped across the canal to the UK. Pfizer and AstraZeneca, both of which make large quantities of the vaccine in Europe, are under contract to honor the commitments they made to Her Majesty’s Government before prioritizing EU contracts that were bought much later. Ironically, the European Union appears to be “at the bottom of the queue”. On Friday the Commission announced its plans to remedy this situation through export controls. Pfizer and AstraZeneca’s ability to ship vaccines outside of the EU would be restricted. A retroactive violation of the principle of free contract in this way would have been bad enough in ordinary times. But such a plan is simply incomprehensible in the current circumstances. The commission essentially threatened the UK with a vaccine blockade at a time when hundreds of vulnerable Brits are dying from COVID-19 every day. And it gets worse. In order to introduce its export controls, the EU planned to trigger Article 16 of its withdrawal agreement with the UK. Article 16 is a kind of emergency glass break that affects Northern Ireland. This would allow the EU to set up a customs infrastructure on the Irish border (the only land border between the UK and the EU) in the event of an extreme emergency. The Commission clearly took the view that as such an emergency it was unable to obtain sufficient doses of the vaccine as it indicated its intention to introduce the export controls in question across the Irish border. To understand the squalor of this move, one really needs to appreciate the political use of the Irish border by the EU during the Brexit negotiations that have spanned half of the last decade. EU negotiators have repeatedly stated that calling for official controls at the Irish border is an act of the utmost irresponsibility. It would jeopardize the hard-won peace in Ireland by bringing the issue of Northern Ireland’s constitutional status back to the fore and getting dormant terrorists into and re-active. The EU used the widespread popularity of the open border in Ireland to press for the UK’s permanent submission to the EU’s regulatory and customs regime. Since Northern Ireland had to stay in line with the Irish Republic (an EU member state) to ensure peace and Northern Ireland is in the UK, after leaving the whole of the EU legal framework, the entire UK had to remain institutions that governed write. This syllogism is so fatally flawed that even the EU did not really believe it, as I wrote here. It was a cynical political game that sought to bureaucratically annex the whole of the United Kingdom first and then, if that failed, only Northern Ireland. No invading armies, just invading regulations: a gentler kind of tyranny. It is a welcome development that last week the EU priestly caste wanted to violate the holy shibboleth of “Peace on the Isle of Ireland” at the first sign of political difficulties. It revealed the great game of political football that they have been playing with this troubled little country for years and that please God they are never allowed to play again. Fortunately, the Commission’s ossified apparatchik had hardly announced their planned export controls on Friday when the entire civilized world fell on them like a ton of improperly regulated brick. The respective Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland immediately alerted the Commission to their anger, while Arlene Foster, Northern Ireland’s first female minister, described the plan as an “act of aggression”. Tony Blair, former Prime Minister and one of the most ardent opponents of Brexit, described the EU’s behavior as “very stupid” and the International Chamber of Commerce actually wrote a letter to the President of the EU Commission, Ursula Von der Leyen, calling on her to reconsider and outline the multiple disasters that could result from disrupting global vaccine supply chains. The viewer has compiled a list of tweets from the strongest supporters of the European Union, which strongly condemn the Commission’s actions. The compilation is amazing to read, if not quite as amazing as this exciting editorial by The Observer, which was a pro-EU paper up until that point. The vacation vote in the 2016 Brexit referendum won 52 to 48 percent. If the referendum were held again today, the vacation profit margin would likely increase significantly. By Saturday, the commission had pulled out, calling its original plan a “mistake”. UK Trade Secretary Liz Truss told the BBC that Boris Johnson’s government had “received an assurance from the European Union that these contracts will not be disrupted”. She continued: “We are pleased that the EU has admitted the Article 16 appeal. . . because the border in Ireland was a mistake and they are not going on now. . . . It is important that we keep the borders open and oppose vaccination nationalism and protectionism. “It is worth thinking for a moment how the European Union came to such an obviously disastrous decision in the first place. At every step in the EU’s response to COVID, we see not only individual incompetence (though there is plenty of it), but the consequences of a technocratic, centralizing, dirigistic ideology that has played out in such a way as to expose the endemic shortcomings of the whole of Europe Project. When the coronavirus first appeared in the western world last spring, the Commission allowed four EU member states – Germany, France, Italy and the Netherlands – to negotiate with potential suppliers. Von der Leyen and her health commissioner Stella Kyriakides changed their minds on this approach in June. Their reasons were not medical, scientific, or logistic. They were political. Von der Leyen wanted to involve all 27 EU member states in centralized negotiations on the acquisition of vaccines in order to demonstrate the unity and solidarity of the EU internal market. These negotiations proved unwieldy and stalled. The EU-AstraZeneca contract negotiated by the German, French, Italian and Dutch delegations was ready for signature in June. Von Leyen’s ideological U-turn in negotiating tactics held the signature until August. For the past three months, AstraZeneca has been preparing diligently to deliver tens of millions of cans to the door of 10 Downing Street. The endangered Europeans, who are not numbered, are now a meter below sea level because Von der Leyen and her fellow federalists were associated with a grandiose vision of deracinated Belgians, Greeks and Lithuanians walking hand in hand into a post-COVID era and ” We Are the World ”sang. The whole case for the EU was that the pale globalized benevolence of a senescent Bonapartist technocracy would be a greater blessing to humanity than the liberal-democratic nation-state. However, the nimble freedom of regulation of a UK post-Brexit state and the antagonistic sclerosis of the emerging European superstate have resulted in a state of affairs where thousands of vulnerable people live in Britain who would be dead if they lived on the continent. The “founding fathers” of the EU – men like Altiero Spinelli and Jean Monnet who wanted to save the world from democracy – would have been appalled. The Commission has tried to put the blame for Europe’s vaccination failures on the pharmaceutical companies themselves. Von der Leyen pointed his finger last week at the technical problems AstraZeneca had with vaccine yields in its European production facilities. “Companies have to deliver,” she said. When Pascal Soriot, CEO of AstraZeneca, was asked about Von der Leyen’s complaints during an interview with the Italian newspaper La Republica, he was a little amused. He found that the UK, US and Australia all had similar problems with returns. “However, the UK treaty was signed three months before the EU treaty,” he said. “With the UK, we had an additional three months to correct any malfunctions that occurred.” In other words, the European Union has only itself to blame. Von Leyen’s decision to halt Europe’s COVID response for three months in order to turn it into a cosmetic base en route to the United States of Europe is costing Europeans their lives every day. The EU’s disastrous response to COVID and its ill-advised but short-lived flirtation with a medical blockade should perhaps be understood as a warning of providence for those of us who have withdrawn in horror at the populist turn in American politics. The European Union is an experiment on anti-populism. Its institutions were designed and built to isolate those who wield political power as much as possible from the will of the majority of the people in the modern world. If populism were the source of our current discontent, we should expect the EU to look like a shining city on a hill. But it is clear that these people have absolutely no clue what in the world they are doing. Ultimately, in today’s world there is simply no major political question to which the European Union is the answer.