EU is in a more stable place than UK and US despite vaccine woes
Stephen Collins: Member states emerging from Covid crisis more bonded than US and UK
La Defense in Paris: “There are good grounds for believing that the EU’s slow and steady pace may enable it to draw level with the UK and the US.”
Despite a faltering start, the Covid-19 vaccination programme in Ireland and across the European Union is now developing momentum and, barring further serious mishaps, there is every possibility that the bulk of the population will be vaccinated by the summer.
At times over the past few months it appeared that the EU would not complete its vaccination programme until long after the UK. However, in what is a marathon not a sprint, there are good grounds for believing that the EU’s slow and steady pace may enable it to draw level with the UK and the United States at the end of the day.
The problems with the EU vaccination programme, which largely stemmed from AstraZeneca’s failure to meet its contractual obligations, led to the usual chorus of disdain from the bloc’s critics who never pass an opportunity to proclaim that it is on its last legs.
During the financial crisis a range of sceptics, mainly based in the UK and the US, insisted that the single currency could not survive and the same prophets of doom were out in force to proclaim that the EU itself was on the verge of collapse when the people of Britain voted to leave.
American economist Paul Krugman, whose negative comments about the EU and Ireland (leprechaun economics), have been a steady refrain for over a decade, rushed to judgment on the EU’s pandemic performance to claim that “the European project is in deep trouble”. The same sentiments have been trotted out day after day in the British Tory press, whose glee at the teething problems in the EU vaccination programme was unrestrained.
There is no arguing that the EU rollout was slower and more chaotic than it should have been, but that was due as much to bungling by national governments, including our own, as well as the commission. The administration of jabs to the maximum number in the shortest time was delayed by ultra-cautious decision-making by some of the national health supervisory bodies. With the extra Pfizer doses obtained by the EU, and the approval for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, the pace of the rollout across all 27 member states should accelerate in the coming months.
The implementation of the €750bn EU recovery fund should come in tandem with the end of the vaccine rollout
The implementation of the €750 billion EU recovery fund, which will help rebuild shattered economies, should come in tandem with the end of the vaccine rollout. That recovery plan faced a serious threat from a challenge in Germany’s federal constitutional court in Karlsruhe on the basis that it contravenes the country’s constitution. The court this week declined the request to block the fund, saying that stalling the process for the entire EU outweighed the risk of breaching the German constitution.
The other main obstacle in the way of the fund is the slowness of some national governments and parliaments in ratifying the plan. The Irish Government is among those who have been tardy on this front as Fianna Fáil MEP Billy Kelleher has pointed out in a letter to the Taoiseach. Kelleher was commenting after the EU budget commissioner, Johannes Hahn, said more urgency was needed from national governments if the June deadline for going to the markets and the deadline for issuing the first tranche of support to member states were to be met.
By autumn, with a bit of luck, the EU will have weathered the Covid-19 storm and will be on the way to economic recovery. In fact, there is every reason to believe that the European project which has survived one crisis after another for 70 years is now in a far healthier state than the UK or the US.
Brexit is imposing huge strains on the cohesion of the UK with the demand for Scottish independence the most immediate threat to the stability of the union. In the US, President Joe Biden has an enormous task on his hands to ease the appalling economic inequalities and the related race relations issue which are threatening the cohesion of that union. He has made a good start on both fronts but there is no underestimating the challenge.
Instead of undermining the EU, Brexit has created a mood of solidarity across the 27 member states
By contrast, the EU has never seemed stronger. Instead of undermining it, Brexit has created a mood of solidarity across the 27 member states. Leading populists like Marine Le Pen in France and Matteo Salvini in Italy, who were stridently hostile to the EU, have now changed their tune and are no longer campaigning to leave. Something similar has happened here with Mary Lou McDonald and Sinn Féin, who campaigned for a No vote in every EU referendum, now describing themselves as Euro critical rather than Euro sceptics.
What all of these ultra-nationalists have come to accept is that the EU is popular with its citizens. The latest opinion poll on Irish attitudes to the EU published this week shows that 84 per cent of people approve of membership, exactly the same figure as a year ago. While there were divided views on its vaccine strategy, that did not change the positive attitude. A successful outcome to the vaccine programme will reinforce that view.