EU’s vaccine fiasco to cause bitter ‘election upheaval’ in France, Germany and Netherlands

Europe ‘could have asked for more vaccines’ says Scholz

Last year, European governments shifted responsibility for vaccination procurement to the EU. This is because German Chancellor Angela Merkel reasoned that it would have strained EU cohesion if Germany had procured privileged supplies of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which was funded by Berlin. The move seems to have backfired.

So far, the UK has vaccinated over nine million people – the third largest total in the world.

On the other hand, the whole of the European Union has vaccinated just over 10 million, despite accounting for 27 countries, according to figures by Our World in Data.

This is why the news that AstraZeneca, an Anglo-Swedish vaccine-maker, may supply less than 40 percent of the doses the EU expected in the first quarter has sparked fury among the bloc’s leaders.

Amid the recriminations, in an extraordinary move on Friday night, the bloc announced it would introduce the export controls on its vaccines entering Northern Ireland in a bid to prevent the region becoming a backdoor for jabs to be sent to the UK’s mainland.

London, Dublin and Belfast immediately condemned the decision and a few hours later, Brussels decided to reverse the move.

Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster described it as “an absolutely incredible act of hostility” that created a hard Irish border, while Ireland’s Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said in a tweet: “The [Northern Ireland] protocol is not something to be tampered with lightly, it’s an essential, hard-won compromise, protecting peace and trade for many.”

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European authorities are therefore under pressure after a sluggish start to the EU’s vaccination campaign in its first month.

It appears to be a moment of truth for the future trajectory of the bloc.

According to the head of Oxford-based think-tank Euro Intelligence Wolfgang Munchau, this fiasco will have serious consequences, particularly in countries where elections are nearing.

He wrote in a recent report: “Vaccination is not as big a story in the European media compared to, for example, the UK or the US.

“But don’t mis-read that. The impact of the policy error has yet to be felt.

“Even in the UK, which is vaccinating some 600,000-people-a-day, the lockdown is unlikely to be lifted for some time. The EU might be lucky in that the Kent-variant of the virus may not spread as fast as it did in the UK during December.

“But if it does, the vaccination policy will not be remembered as a mere policy error, like austerity, but as a cause of death.”

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He noted: “We see the EU’s vaccine crisis having three successive inter-related effects: a prolonged lockdown, a longer second leg of our double-dip recession, and an anti-incumbent mood.

“These have yet to play out.

“With elections in the Netherlands in March, in Germany in September and in France in April 2022, there is potential for upheaval.”

Mr Munchau’s claims are reinforced by the fact national government’s approval ratings are in free fall almost everywhere in the bloc.

Chief economist at the Centre for European Reform, Christian Odendahl wrote on Twitter, alongside a picture of a survey by Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung: “Approval rating of Merkel‘s government is in free fall, on the back of the vaccine disaster and mishandling of the second wave.”

The graph shows that only 49 percent of voters now believe Mrs Merkel’s government is doing a good job at handling the crisis.

On the other hand, 42 percent of voters are critical – up from 15 percent in August.

Mr Odendahl added on Twitter: “This is not bad news just for Jens Spahn [the German Health Minister].

“The state Prime Ministers are in charge of the lockdowns etc, so Laschet, Söder et al equally under fire.”

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Mr Laschet was appointed new federal chairman of Germany’s centre-right Christian Democrats (CDU) earlier this month.

He was elected in a runoff against conservative Friedrich Merz by 521 votes to 466, to resolve a three-way contest that also featured outsider Norbert Röttgen.

Among the three candidates, Mr Laschet, who since 2017 has been the premier of Germany’s most populous state North Rhine-Westphalia, is the one who stands most strongly for a continuation of Mrs Merkel’s course and a “CDU of the centre”.

In his victory speech, Mr Laschet promised to fight for the party to do well in upcoming regional elections and to keep hold of the position of Chancellor.

However, the latest approval ratings of the German government show the leader of the CDU has a long way to go yet.

On the other hand, in France, President of the National Rally political party Marine Le Pen has come within reach for the first time of beating French President Emmanuel Macron in the 2022 election.

The Harris survey has suggested that Ms Le Pen is close to breaching the “glass ceiling” of French politics.

The barrier was based on the longstanding assumption that an absolute majority of voters would never back a far-right candidate.

If the next year’s election was staged now, Ms Le Pen would have 48 percent of the vote, with Mr Macron on 52 percent, according to the poll carried out online between January 19 and 20.

The four-point difference, which is within the margin of error, compared with a June 2020 Ifop poll that put Mr Macron at 55 percent and Ms Le Pen at 45.

In 2017, Mr Macron, who at the time was a debutante politician running as an independent candidate, crushed Ms Le Pen with 66 percent to her 34 percent.

Jordan Bardella, her 25-year-old deputy, congratulated the National Rally President, writing on Twitter: “Marine Le Pen has confirmed that she is capable of winning in 2022.

“May all energy and goodwill come together to conquer victory.”

Meanwhile, last week, the Netherlands faced four consecutive days of unrest against national coronavirus measures.

Demonstrations began the night after a further 9pm to 4.30am curfew was put in place and have at times escalated into violence, rioting and looting in cities such as Amsterdam, Eindhoven and Rotterdam.

Bars and restaurants have been shut in the Netherlands since October, with schools and non-essential shops following suit in mid-December.

Infection numbers are falling but authorities fear the possible faster spread of the UK variant of the virus.

Mark Rutte’s government is acting in a caretaker capacity before the election, scheduled for March 17, after resigning last week over a child benefit scandal.

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