Ursula von der Leyen urged to resign by Estonian MEPThe Commission chief briefly triggered Article 16 of the Brexit protocol two weeks ago sparking
Ursula von der Leyen urged to resign by Estonian MEP
The Commission chief briefly triggered Article 16 of the Brexit protocol two weeks ago sparking the furious reaction of unionist in Northern Ireland and Boris Johnson’s Cabinet. The brief trigger saw vaccine exports to Northern Ireland banned by the Commission after a bitter contractual row between the EU and vaccine producer AstraZeneca.
Mrs von der Leyen later apologised for “mistakes” that led to the triggering of Article 16.
London, Belfast and Dublin were blindsided by a recent attempt by the commission to invoke the clause in a row over the supply of vaccines to Europe.
Irish MEPs in Brussels have said more clarity is needed on how the clause came to be triggered by the commission.
Article 16 overrides part of the Northern Ireland Protocol which prevents a hard border on the island of Ireland, and was intended as an emergency measure only.
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Ursula von der Leyen was forced to publish her contracts with AstraZeneca
The European Commission quickly backtracked on the decision to trigger it, but it caused massive political fallout, particularly in Northern Ireland.
Speaking in the European Parliament on Wednesday, Ms von der Leyen said: “The bottom line is that mistakes were made and the process leading up to the decision, and I deeply regret that. But in the end we got it right.
“And I can reassure you that my commission will do its utmost to protect the peace in Northern Ireland, just as it has done throughout the entire Brexit process.”
The chief of the EU executive was speaking to MEPs in the European Parliament following criticism of the slow roll-out of vaccines and a plan to curb exports that initially sought to set up a hard border on the island of Ireland, causing an outcry in London and Dublin.
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Mrs Von der Leyen, who has also spoken at five groupings of MEPs over the past few weeks, said 26 million vaccine doses had been delivered and that, by the end of the summer, 70 percent of adults in the 27-nation bloc should have been inoculated.
“And yet it is a fact that we are not today where we want to be in the fight against the virus,” she told MEPs.
“We were late with the approval. We were too optimistic on mass production.
“And perhaps we were also too certain that the orders would actually be delivered on time,” she said.
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Ursula von der Leyen defended the Commission
However, Mrs von der Leyen defended the Commission’s oversight of vaccine orders, saying it would have been unfair and “economic madness” for the EU single market if just a few large member states had guaranteed doses.
EU leaders have been wary of criticising Mrs von der Leyen in public so far but they are “furious” over the slow rollout of vaccine across all member states, a senior EU official told Politico last week.
They said: “There is frustration among leaders about the slow rollout of vaccines.
“We need to talk again.”
Coronavirus vaccine doses administered in the world as of February 13
EU governments are under fire over a slow start to vaccinations in the bloc, with critics pointing to progress made in Britain, Israel and the United States as evidence of a planning failure in Brussels and elsewhere.
EU leaders will meet in a videoconference to discuss the matter further on February 25, European Council President Charles Michel has confirmed.
The COVID-19 vaccine crisis, which came to a head with the EU export controls, followed news that AstraZeneca would cut its supply of vaccines to the bloc until March by 60 percent due to production problems.
Even with the addition of an extra 9 million doses that Mrs von der Leyen announced later, the shortfall is at least 50 percent.
Ursula von der Leyen apologised to MEPs
To top it off, a recent study showed that the EU could see a potential 90 billion euro hit to its economy this year unless it catches up with the pace of COVID-19 vaccinations in other regions.
To reach a goal of 70 percent immunity in adults by the summer, the EU would need a sixfold increase in the rate of vaccinations, according to the study by insurance group Allianz and credit insurer Euler Hermes, seen by Reuters ahead of publication.
At the current pace, herd immunity would not be achieved before 2022, the study said, adding that the longer it takes to vaccinate Europe’s population, the longer the economy will be hampered by restrictions and lockdowns.
“One euro that is spent on speeding up vaccinations (though infrastructure, increased vaccine production) could avert four times as many euros in losses,” it said.