Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Ursula von der Leyen's Spectacular Failure

By all accounts the European Union has failed spectacularly to deal with the coronavirus vaccination challenge. Naturally, left- thinking Westerners continue to be involved in a passionate love affair with the European Union. They especially thrill to the sight of Angela Merkel doing business with Russian gas companies and undermining American sanctions on Iran.

The Biden administration has the zany idea that by rejoining the Paris Climate Accord it will form a grand alliance that can compete against the rising power of China. In that it is deluded.

First, because going to war against the weather is not going to make the West look like a beacon of progress. Second, because the EU is run by a bunch of incompetent bureaucrats, led by the queen of incompetence herself, one Ursula von der Leyen.

You might recall that von der Leyen gained her position after failing miserably as the German defense minister. Her legacy is this-- when the German military schedules tank exercises, it is obliged to replace non-existent tanks with Volkswagen vans.

Given her failure at Defense, she was promoted to head of the EU. The qualifications do not include past performance.

When Donald Trump railed against Europe for freeloading off of America for matters of national defense, his detractors were up in arms over the indignity of asking anyone to pay their fair share.

And then there is the question of Brexit. You will recall that the left-thinkers in Great Britain and even in the United States were opposed to Brexit. Barack Obama was opposed to Brexit, so that settled the issue. They are largely enamored with international institutions, like the League of Nations and the United Nations and the World Health Organization, so they were appalled to see Britain opting for nationalism.

Now, Gideon Rachman, surely not a supporter of Boris Johnson or Brexit, explains in the Financial Times that the EU has made an ungodly mess of dealing with the coronavirus vaccine rollout. To his credit, Rachman calls it as it sees it, so we will quote him at length. For the record a link is not available.

He explains:

The EU’s failure to deliver Covid-19 vaccines at pace is a major political scandal. For some leading politicians, it is a potentially career-ending fiasco. Those in the line of fire include Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission; Emmanuel Macron, president of France and Jens Spahn, Germany’s health minister and a potential future chancellor.

Rightly said. You can feel confident that none of the people mentioned will pay a price. They are on the left and leftists never pay a price.

How did it come to this? Much of the blame lies with the European Commission — which, over the summer, persuaded the EU’s 27 member states to co-ordinate their vaccine drives and to put the commission itself in charge.

There were good and bad reasons for this. The good reason was that EU officials could see the threat of dangerous divisions emerging between EU nations as they competed for scarce supplies.

The bad reason is the commission and Ms von der Leyen, saw the pandemic as a great opportunity to expand EU powers. Following the well-worn Brussels dictum that the EU always progresses at times of crisis, they pushed to take control.

What did Von der Leyen do? Why she decided to use the crisis to build a European Health Union? How did that work out?

Health policy has traditionally been largely reserved for individual nations. But Ms Von der Leyen announced that the EU is now “building a European Health Union”. The commission president liked the idea that Covid-19 would demonstrate the virtues of European solidarity. Photo opportunities were planned, showing Europeans getting their jabs all over the continent on the same day. But instead of these positive images, the EU is having to explain away photos of empty vaccination centres, stilled by a lack of supply.

Empty vaccine centers, lack of supply—it feels like New York City.

What did Von der Leyen do wrong? Lots:

In retrospect, the middle of a pandemic was probably not the ideal time to launch a radical experiment in health policymaking. The European Commission does have a health directorate. But it has traditionally been a backwater, run by a low-profile commissioner, currently Cyprus’s Stella Kyriakides.

Faced with a massive health emergency, the commission lacked the in-house expertise to meet the challenge of vaccine procurement. Officials in Brussels moved with excessive caution, haggling over prices and contracts, while the US, Israel and the UK raced ahead.

The issue now is how to shift the blame:

The commission is now blaming AstraZeneca for failing to deliver all the jabs it had promised. But the company points out that Britain signed a deal three months before the EU, making it easier to ensure that production chains were in place and operating smoothly. The EU’s efforts on a big advance-purchase order were partly stymied by suspicions among poorer countries that Germany and France wanted to direct money towards their own companies.

Other parts of the EU system were also not fit for purpose. The commission’s legal service is highly regarded, but its expertise is the interpretation of European law. It had no real experience in negotiating massive public-sector procurement projects. The result has been an unseemly row with Astra-Zeneca over a contract that the commission insists is watertight, but that many lawyers regard as full of holes.

Should Ursula resign? Of course, she should. But, I will bet you that she does not.

If and when the European parliament and the EU ombudsman launch inquiries into the debacle, Ms Von der Leyen may find herself under threat. One senior Brussels figure says: “If the conclusion is that the commission has been incompetent, on a matter of life and death, that’s a resignation issue.” The impression that the commission is flailing around is strengthened by its hurriedly announced and rapidly reworked ban on the export of vaccines, which has sparked an international backlash.

Criticism of the commission is also growing inside the EU. There have been damning verdicts on Ms Von der Leyen’s stewardship in the German press. Markus Söder, chief minister of Bavaria, has accused the commission of lacking the necessary sense of urgency and following “typical, normal, bureaucratic EU procedure”.

And then there is Emmanuel Macron, surely not at the level of Ursula’s incompetence, surely a very intelligent and capable man. And yet, he too bought into the EU-wide vaccine program:

The vaccines mess is also bad news for Mr Macron, who favoured an EU-wide vaccines policy. The French leader faces a presidential election next year. An opinion poll last week showed Marine Le Pen, the leader of the far-right, only narrowly behind him, by a margin of 52-48. French researchers’ failure to produce a vaccine is also being treated as a national embarrassment. Mr Macron’s criticism of AstraZeneca’s vaccine, shortly before it was approved for use across the EU, looked peculiar.

Who is coming out on top? Why, none other than Boris Johnson. Credit to Rachman for telling it like it is.

One leader who is clearly gaining politically from the current row is Boris Johnson. The British prime minister was in trouble over both Brexit and the pandemic. The UK has the highest per-capita death rate for Covid-19 of any large country in Europe. A backlash against the flaws in Mr Johnson’s Brexit deal is growing as exporters all over the country get tangled up in red tape.

But the European Commission’s incompetence has, perhaps temporarily, reshaped the Brexit debate in Britain — making Mr Johnson’s arguments that the UK is better off outside the EU look more credible. Covid-19 almost killed Mr Johnson. But it has now handed him a political lifeline.

Well said and well explained.


John Fisher said...

However much of a mess Ursula von der Leyen is piling on the dung heap that is the EU, it is wrong to call her tenure as Germany's defense minister a failure. I'm pretty sure that the complete gutting of Germany's military capability was her goal and she succeeded. At this point France or an alliance of Eastern European countries could take Germany without sweating.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Thank you for the clarification!!

ErisGuy said...

If the conclusion is that the commission has been incompetent, on a matter of life and death, that’s a resignation issue.”

In the past, various European peoples would rise up and kill people for less than this.

Sam L. said...

"What did Von der Leyen do wrong? Lots:..." It's the EU. It's bad/poor/rotten AND a "Ball of SNAKES" in inaction.