Illustrations by Hannah Robinson
The EU is not performing well at the moment. It has been notable for its particularly slow vaccination performance, trailing behind countries like the US, UK, Israel and UAE. This is deplorable given Europe has been considerably badly hit by Covid-19. Moreover, it is currently involved in an argument over supplies with AstraZenaca, and its reaction has been, simply, damning.
The EU has found itself stuck between a rock and a hard place: it is failing to vaccinate its citizens fast enough. But, simultaneously is not able to get the supplies it ordered, because it ordered them later than others, specifically Britain. Whilst the EU hoped that by working as a single spokesperson – representing its 27 constituent countries – would be more efficient and succeed in gaining a better deal, it has actually resulted in bureaucracy and protocol delaying and complicating the process. Britain, as of 3rd February had vaccinated 14.9 per 100 people; the EU’s average was 3.05.
Equally, far from the scheme ensuring the countries are equally provided for, the EU countries all have different vaccination rates, with the highest being Malta which, according to the same statistics, had vaccinated 6.6 per 100 people, and Bulgaria had the lowest – a mere 0.66 per 100 people. What has the scheme really achieved, if it has not enabled the countries to be systematically equal, in terms of vaccinations?
In any case, the EU were stuck. So, when AstraZeneca informed the EU that they would have to reduce their supply to 31 million, a cut of 60%, due to manufacturing issues, the EU retaliated, demanding that Britain’s supplies should instead be cut.
The EU ordered 300 million doses of the AstraZeneca Vaccine – otherwise known as the Oxford Vaccine – back in August 2020. Britain ordered 100 million in May, three months earlier. But the EU maintained that they should not be given fewer doses simply because the UK ordered them earlier. The EU seem to have slightly missed the point of the rules of a queue – a notion in itself inextricably linked with Britishness. Their decision to trigger Article 16, allowing for checks on the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, has been widely criticised.
Obviously the EU are trying to protect their citizens and are anxious to ensure that their countries are protected against this frightening virus, but their decision to disregard legal contracts, and put British citizens at risk suggests a dangerous kind of European nationalism.
Some of the anti-EU sentiment has been abhorrent over the last few years, and has been criticised by many for demonstrating a British nationalism. Nationalism, which the EU was set up to try and prevent. By trying to attempt closing borders and ignoring legislation, they have ultimately said – if you don’t want to play by our rules, you do not matter to us.
It’s a tricky situation, because, while Brexiteers and those in charge have, over the last few years, often disrespected the EU, the EU has unfortunately demonstrated, in this situation, as no better.
This is not a Remainer vs Brexiteer battle. This is simply an instance where the EU have behaved unacceptable. To criticise something does not automatically mean you disagree with it wholly. You can be a Remainer, like me, and still think the EU was wrong here; equally you can be a Brexiteer and believe the EU has benefits.
The EU needs to be careful about not presenting themselves as European first, and avoiding a kind of European nationalism, the very kind they swore would be “never again”.