Vaccine storm engulfs EU Chief von der Leyen | Daily News

Vaccine storm engulfs EU Chief von der Leyen

 EU chief Ursula von der Leyen
EU chief Ursula von der Leyen

BELGIUM: EU chief Ursula von der Leyen faces the deepest political crisis of her mandate so far, under intense fire over delayed vaccine deliveries and the bungled roll-out of export controls.

No-one expects the storm to drive her from office -- she still has powerful backing in Paris and Berlin -- but the attacks underline concerns about Brussels' coronavirus strategy.

In Brussels, Dublin and London the criticism has focused on the European Commission's aborted move to impose vaccine export controls on the border between EU-member Ireland and Northern Ireland, part of the UK.

But beyond the EU bubble, politicians and citizens across the bloc are voicing frustration at coronavirus vaccination rates falling behind those in the US, UK and Israel.

Von der Leyen's personal style has also come under fire, with some in Brussels accusing her of relying on a tight-knit inner circle and by-passing Commission experts.

The main political groups in the European Parliament called the former German minister in for a series of grillings on Tuesday, fuelling the mood of crisis.

Even von der Leyen's predecessor in Brussels' top job, Jean-Claude Juncker, has joined the chorus of criticism, and some diplomats are privately scathing.

In an interview with Le Monde, von der Leyen admitted to some missteps. The European Commission and von der Leyen's defenders say that if Brussels had not taken charge of coordinating vaccine policy there would have been competition between EU capitals.

International drugs firms would have driven a harder bargain and smaller member states would have lost out to the power of major players such as France and Germany.

They also defend Europe's cautious approach to licensing, taking time to negotiate liability clauses with manufacturers and allowing the European Medicines Agency space to vet vaccines.

But in the meantime, UK authorities have raced ahead on jabs and vaccine firms have issued warnings that they will not meet their promised advance shipments, triggering a furious row. Von der Leyen has hit back hard at British-Swedish giant AstraZeneca in particular, accusing the pharmaceutical firm of falling short on contractual commitments to supply its vaccine to EU governments.

But, on Friday, after her commission unveiled a transparency strategy designed to monitor and if necessary block vaccine exports from EU plants, it had to backtrack.

The new rules, as unveiled to the press but quickly modified, enraged Dublin and London by invoking a clause in the Brexit withdrawal agreement to control the Irish border.

The threat to invoke the clause was dropped, but it proved a humiliating climbdown and von der Leyen has been accused of trying to shift responsibility for the gaffe onto officials outside her office.

At the meetings with lawmakers on Tuesday evening she insisted she took "responsibility for whatever happens in the Commission", those present said.