Vaccines for the EU: too little, too late, too cheap?

Even after the row between the EU and Astrazeneca has for the most part been settled, criticism of Europe's approach to acquiring vaccines continues. Commission President von der Leyen has admitted mistakes, but defended the common procurement strategy. The commentaries in Europe's press reflect the controversy.

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Die Presse (AT) /

All in all the right approach

Paul Schmidt, General Secretary of the Austrian Society for European Politics, defends the EU's strategy in a commentary for Die Presse:

“Decisions were made too late, negotiations were too slow, orders were insufficient. These or similar aspects of the joint vaccine procurement strategy of the EU and its 27 member states are currently being criticised. ... Without doubt: the negotiations should have been conducted faster and with more foresight, approvals should have taken place more quickly. But the EU isn't a nation state. ... Should we have ordered more vaccines? Not really. ... An even larger order wouldn't have accelerated production. ... You're always wiser in retrospect, and it's possible that mistakes were made all around. ... Nevertheless, despite all the criticism the joint approach was the right one.”

Irish Examiner (IE) /

Everyone for themselves would have been better

The Irish Examiner, however, can't make head or tails of such arguments:

“The EC has also made an unholy mess of the rollout of Covid-19 vaccines throughout the EU. ... However, once again she [von der Leyen] failed to take personal responsibility for the slow rollout ... . She also insists that negotiating as a bloc for vaccine supplies remains the right approach. That flies in the face of reality. Individual countries such as the UK, Israel - and even tiny Iceland - have done far better.”

De Standaard (BE) /

Only Big Pharma benefits from lone wolf states

But making the EU the scapegoat again will only work against the individual member states' interests in the end, De Standaard columnist Paul Goossens warns:

“For the first time in the history of the EU, the pharmaceutical companies were not able to apply their notorious 'divide et impera' strategy and play the member states off against each other. This has probably saved Europe's citizens hundreds of millions, and in the future probably many times more than that. At least if the joint European purchasing policy is continued and expanded. Whether this will happen is by no means certain. Because that would mean more powers for Europe and less exorbitant profits for the pharmaceutical sector. There are those who have problems with this and don't want to miss out on the chance of seeing the EU fall on its face. It's obvious that then it would mainly be the smaller countries that end up with a raw deal.”

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (DE) /

Joint procurement: there is another way

The idea that the EU should take control in crisis situations certainly doesn't apply here, writes FAZ:

“That was perhaps the case with the euro crisis, but already less so with the refugee crisis, and to judge by the most recent experiences it seems even less compelling in the pandemic. ... A race for vaccines would also have been avoided if Germany, France, Italy and the Netherlands had organised purchases for Europe as originally planned. ... One thing is clear: there won't be any political majorities in the EU backing changes to the treaties that would turn the Commission into a government that is capable of acting in the foreseeable future. That's why it will still be necessary for the member states to take care of European business - especially in emergencies.”

Le Monde (FR) /

All together instead of everyone for himself

Le Monde laments that the political leaders aren't seeking a common path out of this difficult situation:

“The EU is ill-equipped to deal with health emergencies of this magnitude. Everyone is groping in the dark and inevitably making mistakes. It's deplorable that political interests and geopolitical rivalries are taking precedence over the issue that no one should lose sight of: vaccinating as many people as possible, in Europe and the rest of the world. This was the original goal of the EU, which saw vaccines as a 'global public good'. It is time to return to this goal through cooperation without ulterior motives between governments and the pharmaceutical industry.”

Wiener Zeitung (AT) /

More state, not less!

The Wiener Zeitung is not surprised that the pharmaceutical companies need more time to deliver the huge quantities of vaccines:

“No CEO can justify commissioning the construction of production facilities for a vaccine he doesn't even know will work. Business managers pay attention to profitability and cost-effectiveness. Economists do a different calculation: the costs of the pandemic run into the billions. So the problem is not a few hundred million in potentially bad investments - there have been more pointless projects than a few vaccine factories left standing unused once the pandemic is over. Politicians need the courage to intervene massively in economic activity. ... This is a good mental exercise to prepare for the next challenge awaiting mankind: climate change.”

Capital (GR) /

A European triumph

The website Capital sees no cause for criticism:

“The vaccination rates in the EU member states are homogeneous. They range from 1.5 percent in the 'rich' Netherlands to 6.29 percent in 'little' Malta, with the majority at somewhere between 2 and 4 percent. When it comes to vaccination, populism and cheap criticism are uncalled for. ... The Europeans have behaved like Europeans - at least in this very critical area of public health. The rich and powerful, like Germany, France and the Netherlands, could simply have opted for a national strategy and put their own citizens before the Greeks, Portuguese or Bulgarians.”