EU has failed Africa on Covid-19 vaccines, says Michael D Higgins

President says Europe also needs to learn from ‘inadequate response’ to financial crisis

President Michael D Higgins and other non-executive presidents during the press conference of the Arraiolos Group meeting in Rome. Photograph: Maxwells/PA Wire

President Michael D Higgins and other non-executive presidents during the press conference of the Arraiolos Group meeting in Rome. Photograph: Maxwells/PA Wire


President Michael D Higgins has said the European Union has “failed Africa” through not transmitting enough Covid-19 vaccines to the continent which is Europe’s closest neighbour.

At a meeting of non-executive presidents of EU countries, Mr Higgins returned to an issue on which he has spoken regularly in recent months: the major disparity between vaccination rates in Europe and Africa.

A little over 8 per cent of the population of Africa have received one jab or more and 22 of the more than 50 states have less than 5 per cent of people vaccinated with a single dose, while six countries have less than 1 per cent of their population vaccinated as of September 2021.

By contrast, in Europe many states are reaching the threshold of herd immunity and only in Bulgaria has less than 50 per cent of its population received at least one dose.

Speaking after the meeting at the Presidential Palace in Rome on Wednesday, Mr Higgins said the discussions had addressed the EU’s “failures in relation to the transfer of vaccinations, and particularly in relation to Africa, our neighbour”.

“We have failed Africa. And we have to accept, as well, the need to pool technology, the transfer of capacity to protect from pandemics, and the need to transfer science and technology in a way that will enable our neighbours to achieve sustainability,” he said.

The meeting of the so-called Arraiolos Group of EU presidents was hosted by the Italian president, Sergio Mattarella. In all, there are 15 presidents in Europe who have non-executive functions, 14 of whom attended the meeting.

In his remarks at the conclusion of the meeting, Mr Higgins also said Europe needs to learn lessons from the “inadequate analysis and response to the financial crisis” of a decade ago.


“We must ensure we connect with the European street seeking to forge an urgently needed connection between ecology, economics, ethics and justice.

“It is my hope that our planning for the years ahead will include a reflection on the assumptions that led to the current legacy of ecological irresponsibility, and our galloping journey towards, and spreading an ideology of, an economy without morals.

“The European Street has in the aspirations of its citizens sought a Europe that is much more than a zone of economic co-operation in matters of coal and steel, and technocratic arrangements.

“The peoples of Europe continue to seek a vision of a Europe that transcends borders and lines of division; a Europe that celebrates diversity, that embraces a respectful and sustainable relationship with our natural environment, and a form of economy that delivers on a promise of sustainability,” he said.

The President also touched on human rights in his speech, commending the Government’s emphasis on this matter in its presidency of the United Nations Security Council. He referred specifically to the new regime in Afghanistan.

“I am very pleased that [Ireland has] been emphasising the importance of being unambiguous about the rights of women and girls in the new circumstances of Afghanistan.

On Friday, Mr Higgins will discuss some of the challenges debated at the Arraiolos Group meeting with Pope Francis, whose statements on issues such as development, migration and climate change the President has referred to as inspirational. It will be his third audience with the pontiff.