The Irish Times view on vaccines for the EU’s neighbours: a moral test

If the world’s richest club of nations proves to be unwilling or incapable of assisting its poorer allies through this crisis, that failure will be exploited for years by Beijing and Moscow

Serbia  received the first batch of an expected 2 million doses of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine in December and plans to start producing it this year. Photograph: Saeed Kaari / Imam Khomeini Airport City/AFP via Getty Images

Serbia received the first batch of an expected 2 million doses of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine in December and plans to start producing it this year. Photograph: Saeed Kaari / Imam Khomeini Airport City/AFP via Getty Images

 

In the race to protect people against coronavirus, no country in mainland Europe has vaccinated a bigger share of its population than Serbia, and its president is thanking China and Russia rather than the EU for its success.

“The world has hit an iceberg, like the Titanic, and the rich and the richest are only saving themselves,” Aleksandar Vucic said recently. “They have prepared expensive lifeboats, and those of us who aren’t rich – like the countries of the western Balkans – we’re drowning with the Titanic.”

Serbia received the first batch of an expected 2 million doses of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine in December and plans to start producing it this year

Vucic says his strong ties with Xi Jinping helped secure one million doses of the Sinopharm vaccine that have allowed Serbia to inoculate almost 8 per cent of residents, while its Balkan neighbours wait for supplies via the EU-backed Covax programme for poorer nations. Serbia also received the first batch of an expected 2 million doses of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine in December and plans to start producing it this year, in what Vucic hails as further vindication of his policy to court Moscow and Beijing even while pursuing the distant goal of EU accession.

Delays to the bloc’s vaccine rollout threaten to have a knock-on effect not only on the public health of nearby Balkan and ex-Soviet states, but also on how they perceive the relative value of relations with the EU, China and Russia. Brussels has pledged €870 million to Covax and €70 million to help Balkan countries buy vaccines, but the huge demand and supply glitches faced by western manufacturers are causing some states to join Serbia in looking east for assistance.

From Ukraine to Moldova to Albania, advocates of EU membership believe it would not only make their countries richer, more democratic and less corrupt, but also more professionally and more fairly run. If the world’s richest club of nations proves to be unwilling or incapable of assisting its poorer allies through this crisis, that failure will be exploited for years by Beijing, Moscow and their boosters in the Balkans and eastern Europe.

While accelerating its vaccine rollout, the EU must also pass a key moral and practical test of the pandemic by helping its neighbours in need.

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