Saturday, March 20, 2021

The European Union Fails

All hail the European Union. It is an agglomeration of squabbling bureaucrats, led by one Ursula von der Leyen. You might recall that Ursula got her job because she had been the Defense Minister in Germany. On that job she had shown manifest incompetence, which was good enough to place her in her new role. As Jen Psaki would say, the important thing is, she’s a woman.

Rah. Rah.

Anyway, the weakest link in the coronavirus vaccine rollout has been Europe. It has not only made a complete mess of European economic life, but it is going to damage the world economy.

Rah. Rah for Europe.

The Wall Street Journal editorialized this morning:

It’s hard to think of a recent fiasco that can match the European Union’s Covid vaccine rollout. Protectionism, mercantilism, bureaucratic ineptitude, lack of political accountability, crippling safety-ism—it’s all here. The Keystone Kops in Brussels and European capitals would be funny if the consequences weren’t so serious.

Given that no one is getting vaccinated, the virus is on the march.

But hospitalizations and deaths are rising again in Italy, Germany and France while successful vaccinations suppress illness and fatalities in the U.S., United Kingdom and Israel. To date the U.S. has administered 34 doses per 100 residents, the U.K. has jabbed 40, and Israel has 111. Most vaccines require two doses. Compare that to about 12 in France, Germany and Italy.

How could this have happened?

One problem is that no one seems to be fully in charge of monitoring safety and efficacy. Nominally that’s the EMA’s job, and the agency handled it with typical eurocratic aplomb. The EMA’s approval process is more bureaucratic, requiring input from all EU member states. Imagine if the FDA consulted all 50 states.

But national governments also are allowed to make their own safety rulings on an “emergency” basis. The U.K. used this option to approve the Pfizer and AstraZeneca shots quickly despite still being an EU member late last year.

But, the bureaucrats running Europe refused to follow the British example. Doubtless, their feelings were hurt by Brexit:

Other governments used this discretion to slow-roll vaccines. EU capitals refused to follow the U.K. in granting emergency-use authorization, apparently for fear of hurting European solidarity. But some governments have been happy to impose unilateral blocks on the vaccine, as with the AstraZeneca clot kerfuffle. European regulators live by the maxim “better safe than sorry,” but in this case they’re getting the sorry with no added safe.

At least now, millions of doses are available for Europeans who do want them. This wasn’t always the case, after procurement bungles delayed deliveries and nearly sparked several trade wars. Brussels officials last year jumped at the chance to push common vaccine procurement to bolster the EU’s credibility with European voters. Buying on behalf of 500 million Europeans also was supposed to give the bloc more leverage with pharmaceutical companies.

Apparently, the supposition did not work out very well.

Compare Washington and London to the inept bureaucrats of the EU:

Washington and London understood that crucial to mass procurement was throwing large amounts of R&D money at many companies in hopes some would work. Brussels focused on haggling down the cost per dose. Europeans pay a few dollars less per dose but ended near the back of the shipment line.

The EU response—a combination of threatened export curbs, noisy commercial disputes with pharma companies, and sour-grapes caviling about imaginary efficacy concerns—has mainly undermined Europe’s credibility on trade issues. It also risks stoking vaccine nationalism and trade restrictions elsewhere.

In conclusion:

Could things have been different? The Trump Administration’s Operation Warp Speed demonstrated how a large government can use its fiscal resources to fund R&D in a crisis. The U.K. and Israel have shown that small countries can leverage regulatory nimbleness to sprint ahead. But somehow the European Union—a continent-wide political bloc composed of smaller nation-states—managed to get the worst of both worlds. It’s suffering the lumbering bureaucracy of a large government and the squabbling inefficiency of a small one.


Sam L. said...

Ah, Europe! Still squabbling after alllllllllll theeeeeeeeeeeeeeeese yearrrrrrrrrrs.
(When will they ever learn?) BREATH: NOT held.

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