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January 28, 2021updated 30 Sep 2022 9:59am

Formerly pro EU newspapers turn on the bloc over ‘vaccine nationalism’ and ‘playground bully’ tactics

By Dominic Ponsford

Even the UK’s formerly pro-European newspapers have rounded on the EU over the Commission’s threats to halt vaccine exports and its call for Astra Zeneca to divert UK vaccine production to Europe.

The FT, which has long been a supporter of UK EU membership, writes in its leader: “…the commission was notably slower than the UK or US in signing contracts, and thus preparing the supply chain. It appears to have been less generous, too, in subsidising expanded production capacity. Rather than resort to protectionist tendencies, Brussels should admit it could have done better and set about working with the drug companies and national governments to rectify the problem.”

Leo Cendrowicz  writing in the strongly pro-EU Guardian says of the EU vaccines strategy “the EU approach came with strings.

“The commission, negotiating for the first time on vital medicines, felt that EU countries would demand value for money, so it dragged out the talks to secure better prices and product liability guarantees. That meant it signed the contracts with AstraZeneca in August, three months after the UK’s contract.

“The EU’s joint approach may have secured lower prices and guarantees, but it came at the expense of speed – and at such a critical moment, it can only watch as the UK, which paid the full price, is benefiting from its early orders.”

The Times, which was broadly neutral in its coverage ahead of the 2016 Brexit referendum, writes in its leader column: “this outbreak of vaccine nationalism is curmudgeonly and ill-judged. If the EU wants someone to blame for its laggardly performance it need look no further than its own decision-making process.

“It was Brussels that insisted that vaccine purchasing should be a collective EU effort. That may have been a sensible strategy to avoid vaccine nationalism within the bloc, but the result was a slower and more bureaucratic process. Similarly, the decision not to accelerate authorisation to assuage the concerns of anti-vaxxers delayed the EU’s distribution of jabs.”

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And the Daily Mail, which has been more conciliatory on Europe since 2018 under editor Geordie Greig, writes: “Like a playground bully, the EU is seeking to snatch millions of doses of Covid vaccine intended for Britain.

“Incompetent and bureaucratic, the protectionist bloc was too slow to order jabs when the pandemic struck. Instead of admitting its error, it is browbeating AstraZeneca to hand over supplies the UK has already bought. Boris, and the firm, must resist this intimidation at all costs.

“Meanwhile, as our rollout races ahead, member states are turning on Brussels. Thank goodness we are out of this fiasco.”

And finally in i, another paper which was neutral on Brexit ahead of the referendum, editor Oly Duff writes: “Readers of i will know that we do not indulge in jingoism. During the UK’s tense Brexit trade negotiations with Brussels we tried to puncture bombast from both sides. However, in the row over Europe’s vaccine supplies, the EU appears to be in the wrong.

“The short explanation for fury on the continent is that the EU’s centralised vaccine procurement has been sluggish. Leaders are under pressure. The bloc was slow to sign a contract with AstraZeneca (three months later than the UK).
“The UK production line was also hit by delays, but because it began tackling them earlier, UK factories (contractually obliged to supply the UK in the first instance) have had time to address teething problems. Whereas in EU factories they still face those early glitches and are playing catch-up.

“Vaccine nationalism is self-defeating since a pandemic is by definition global. UK factories will eventually start to churn out tens of millions of doses to send to the EU. On this occasion, don’t be fooled by bluster from Brussels.”

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