January 30, local time, the European Union lifted its control over the export of coronavirus vaccines in Northern Ireland. A few hours after, the European Union officially announced the implementation of controls on the export of coronavirus vaccine produced in member countries, including Northern Ireland, which is considered to be within the EU Free Trade Zone, to prevent the coronavirus vaccine supplied to the EU from entering the rest of the UK through the “backdoor” of Northern Ireland.
The EU’s move immediately caused a lot of controversy, especially in Northern Ireland, Ireland and the United Kingdom. Northern Ireland even attacked it as an “incredible hostile act” of the EU. Under pressure from all sides, the EU withdrew the relevant decision. In response, British media and politicians excitedly shouted that Britain had won a “vaccine victory”.
However, CNN said that the battle between the European Union and the United Kingdom for a vaccine has revealed the ugly truth about “vaccine nationalism”, which these two rich economies are so scrambling for a vaccine, and many poor countries do not even have a dose of vaccine.
“Incredible hostile acts”
On the evening of January 29, the European Union, which had been worried about the reduction of the supply of coronavirus vaccine to the factories of the British-Swimerish joint venture AstraZeneca and Pfizer and Pfizer in Europe that it would restrict the new ones in accordance with Article 16 of the “Brexit” agreement signed between the European Union and the United Kingdom regarding the border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom.
The vaccine is exported from the European Union to Northern Ireland. According to the “Brexit” agreement signed between the EU and the United Kingdom, although the United Kingdom has “Brexit”, the Northern Ireland region of the United Kingdom remains in the EU Free Trade Zone, and goods can be fully free to flow between the rest of the EU and Northern Ireland.
However, this time, because the EU is worried that Northern Ireland will become a “backdoor” for the delivery of coronavirus vaccine produced in the EU to the rest of the UK, it simply restricts the export of vaccines to Northern Ireland.
At the same time, the European Union also announced the implementation of the “transparent mechanism for vaccine export” on the 29th.
The mechanism requires that all companies that produce vaccines in the EU should obtain EU permission when exporting vaccines outside the EU.
The EU explained that this mechanism is not an export ban, but to ensure that vaccine exports are transparent and allow EU member states to get the vaccine they ordered in time.
The EU’s move immediately angered the governments of Northern Ireland, Ireland and the United Kingdom.
In an interview, Northern Ireland’s Chief Secretary Foster called it “an incredibly hostile act” and “by triggering Article 16 in this way, the EU has once again demonstrated that it is ready to use Northern Ireland in the meanest way – rather than providing a vaccine aimed at saving lives.” Foster talked to British Prime Minister Johnson for the first time. She called for Downing Street to give a “strong response”.
A spokesman for 10 Downing Street, the British Prime Minister’s Office, issued a statement on the 29th, saying that British Prime Minister Johnson had held a long conversation with European Commission President von der Leyen, “expressing serious concern about the possible impact of EU measures on vaccine exports” and “The Prime Minister stressed that Britain’s regards Northern Ireland.
The enduring commitment of the agreement indicates that the EU must urgently state its intentions and planned steps to ensure that its commitments to Northern Ireland are fully implemented.” Johnson had a “seven-hour phone debate” with von der Leyen, the BBC said, and the Sunday Times quoted a senior British official as saying Johnson’s words on the phone were “quite exciting”.
Irish Prime Minister Martin also talked to von der Leyen on the same day.
An Irish government source said that the Irish government was deeply dissatisfied with the EU’s action, calling it “totally unnecessary” and potentially having “explosive political implications”.
Due to strong protests, the European Union lifted restrictions on the export of vaccines in Northern Ireland on the 30th, but still required the number of registered for all vaccines shipped to Northern Ireland through Ireland.
“Britain’s double victory”?
The British media immediately cheered “victory” against the EU’s retreat.
The British Observer said on the 31st that the “mistake” of the European Union has rekindled a political dispute over the status of Northern Ireland after Brexit.
According to the report, some Conservative politicians in the UK are planning to use this “mistake” of the EU to demand “overall reform” of the “Brexit” agreement.
The British Sunday People also hailed the “vaccine victory”, reporting that it was a “hopeful day” in Britain after a “hell year”. The headline on the front page of the Sunday Post said that it was “Johnson’s double victory”. The newspaper said that the United Kingdom forced the European Union to make extraordinary concessions on the vaccine issue, and the British have 8.4 million doses of vaccine.
However, many British people said on social media that this was not a victory at all.
On the 30th, there were 23,275 new confirmed cases, 1,200 new deaths and 105,571 deaths in the United Kingdom, making it the highest death rate from the novel coronavirus in the world.
At the same time, the European Union is in trouble at home and abroad, and even von der Leyen’s German compatriots are accusing her. According to CNBC, Bavarian Governor Zed, who is considered Merkel’s most likely successor, criticized the European Commission for “ising orders too late and betting on only a few vaccine companies, completely underestimating the severity of the epidemic”.
Schneider, chairman of the German left-wing Social Democratic Party, accused: “Vaccines are the only way out of the crisis for the EU, and it must be the responsibility of the leaders.” Spain’s Effie said that the vaccine dispute between the European Union and the United Kingdom has caused frustration in European countries and will further affect vaccination.
At present, countries such as France, Spain and Portugal have been forced to stop vaccination. Germany currently accounts for only 2.1% of the population, and the Netherlands only exceeds 1%.
Bloomberg said that in the face of the vaccine crisis, the EU and everyone have become enemies. Von der Leyen was “broken” under great pressure. The EU, which was previously criticized for being too slow, has made things worse because it acted too hasty.
This incident has hit the EU’s image as an open market and the rule of law defender, and the EU’s moral authority is being torn apart.
“The EU-UK vaccine fight has exposed the ugly truth about vaccine nationalism.” CNN said that at the United Nations General Assembly last September, world leaders called for global solidarity, and they learned from the damage caused by the previous stockpile of epidemic prevention equipment by many countries.
They said at that time that when the vaccine is developed, all the most vulnerable people in the world will be the first to be vaccinated. However, now that the vaccine has been developed, unity is gone. The “ugly vaccine nationalism” that the WHO fears is really staged in Europe, which is called the most equal in the world.
Meanwhile, many poor countries have not started vaccination so far.
The UK has ordered 360 million doses of vaccines and plans to purchase another 150 million doses from Johnson & Johnson, according to the report, which is enough for the British to vaccinate four rounds (two doses per person).
The European Union has also ordered 1.6 billion doses of vaccine.
Regarding the competition for vaccines in Britain and Europe, WHO Assistant Director-General Simang said on the 29th that the EU’s restrictions on vaccine exports are worrying, which will hinder the free circulation of the global supply chain for the manufacture of vaccines, diagnostic reagents and necessary ingredients for drugs.
In an interview with the BBC, WHO spokesman Harris called on the UK not to continue the vaccination program after vaccinating high-risk groups, so as to distribute the vaccine equitably around the world. She said that the British people “can wait” because “it is morally and economically correct to distribute vaccines fairly around the world”. However, most analysts are pessimistic about whether this appeal can be realized.
“The EU should not be biased and should consider using Russian and Chinese vaccines.” According to the website of Russia Today on the 30th, Fisher, the senior coordinator of the French government in charge of the vaccination program, told French BFM that if safety and effectiveness are proved, there is no reason for Brussels not to consider using Russian or Chinese vaccines.
He said that the EU should consider all vaccines available and “no national bias should be given to vaccine production”.
German Health Minister Spahn quoted German news agency on the 31st as saying that the European Union should consider opening vaccines from Russia and China.
Spahn said that if the vaccines in Russia and China are approved by the European Union, Germany will also approve them.
Austria’s Vienna Daily said on the 31st that Hungary ordered 5 million doses of Chinese vaccine, becoming the first country in the European Union to be vaccinated against China.
The report also said that in Europe, except for the United Kingdom, Serbia, the country with the highest vaccination rate is actually Serbia, thanks to the help of Chinese vaccines.