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Adriel Kasonta

London-based foreign affairs analyst and commentator, who is the founder of AK Consultancy and editorial board member at the peer-reviewed Central European Journal of International and Security Studies (CEJISS) in Prague.

It has not been that long since Europe was experiencing a more relaxed Christmas period only to kick start 2021 with more lockdown restrictions related to the finding of a new variant of the virus, which has been fundamental in reshaping our human existence since early 2020.

The threat posed by the new strain of COVID-19 is only adding fuel to the frustration felt by many across the continent, which only complicates those in Brussels and national governments across the world.

Italy may serve as a good example, as the country's Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte decided to hand in his resignation to President Sergio Mattarella on 26 January 2021, after being faced with two confidence votes and losing the governing majority in the Senate due to Matteo Renzi's Italia Viva withdrawal from the coalition on the ground of the alleged mismanagement of the pandemic and recession.

Currently, it is the former President of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi, who has been tasked by President Mattarella with forming a new government and solving political crisis in Italy.

Another deeply divided EU member state is Spain, where the health minister, Salvador Illa, resigned from his post the same day as Conte—partly out of fear of his fellow citizens, and partly due to personal motives to try his hand as the Socialist party's candidate in Catalan regional elections taking place in February.

Although the mentioned move could potentially cause further frictions between the EU and the U.S., or UK, it is good if we become honest with ourselves about the severity of the current state of pandemic affairs and put (sometimes) blinding realpolitik aside in order to take into account the following objective factors.

Let’s face it, the longer it takes us to bring the pandemic under control, the more lives will be lost.

As of today, according to the Johns Hopkins’ live dashboard, the current global COVID-19-related infection cases have reached 103,523,528 with 2,241,147 deaths.

Knowing that a successful vaccination effort is the only sustainable way to help the economic recovery globally—the aim extremely difficult, as Oxford Economics’ “baseline forecast already assumes the crisis will cut the long-term level of world GDP by around 2%, or USD 2.1 tn" (with a "long-term GDP losses of 5%, or USD 4.9 tn")—all countries realistically capable of helping themselves (including, despite what Liz Truss disappointingly argues, also UK) and others should try to resist vaccine nationalism or even vaccine wars. Doing otherwise could cost the West about $4.5 trillion and the global economy $9.2 trillion, as commissioned by the International Chamber of Commerce study estimates.

Without any doubt, the current situation and the unquestionable power of big pharma compromises the health of millions around the globe, and will definitely prove to be a litmus test for the integrity of governments but most importantly of human unity.

Having said that, the West (for health-care, economic and security reasons) will be well advised to remember the prophetic wisdom of President Harry S. Truman, in that “selfishness and greed, individual or national, cause most of our troubles.”

It has not been that long since Europe was experiencing a more relaxed Christmas period only to kick start 2021 with more lockdown restrictions related to the finding of a new variant of the virus, which has been fundamental in reshaping our human existence since early 2020.

The threat posed by the new strain of COVID-19 is only adding fuel to the frustration felt by many across the continent, which only complicates those in Brussels and national governments across the world.

Italy may serve as a good example, as the country's Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte decided to hand in his resignation to President Sergio Mattarella on 26 January 2021, after being faced with two confidence votes and losing the governing majority in the Senate due to Matteo Renzi’s Italia Viva withdrawal from the coalition on the ground of the alleged mismanagement of the pandemic and recession.

Currently, it is the former President of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi, who has been tasked by President Mattarella with forming a new government and solving political crisis in Italy.

Another deeply divided EU member state is Spain, where the health minister, Salvador Illa, resigned from his post the same day as Conte - partly out of fear of his fellow citizens, and partly due to personal motives to try his hand as the Socialist party’s candidate in Catalan regional elections taking place in February.

In Holland, tensions over recently introduced night-time curfews led to massive and violent riots sweeping across the country by “virus deniers, political protesters and kids who just saw the chance to go completely wild,” as leading Dutch criminologist, Henk Ferwerda, argues.

“Member States should introduce additional measures to ensure that travel into the EU takes place safely. This concerns those travelling to the EU for essential reasons, EU citizens and long-term residents as well as their family members, and those travelling from countries for which the non-essential travel restriction was lifted,” the European Commission announced in January, in a desperate attempt to curb the further spread of COVID-19-related infections on its territory.

Following the EC’s recommendations, several EU member states have already announced new travel and entry regulations, each of them maintaining its very own standards for entry rights, as well as further measures implemented to curb the spread of the virus.

In order to help travellers to Europe navigate the pandemic, the EU has introduced a traffic light system, where the bloc has been divided into four zones: green, orange, red, and grey.

An interesting point to note is that according to the latest survey done for Oxford University Europe’s Stories research project led by Professor Timothy Garton Ash, 74% of Europeans believe the EU is not worth having without free movement.

By now, although the bloc with its 450 million inhabitants is undoubtedly wielding important economic and political power in the world, it is clear that it is struggling to keep up with others in COVID-19 vaccinations rollouts, as University of Oxford’s global vaccination tracker suggests.

The future seems to be looking even grimmer when we take into account that the EU has a target of vaccinating 70% of its population by the end of August 2021, in addition to the widely publicised political issues and shortage of vaccines in the bloc.

It is clear that the EU is going to have a serious problem with vaccines supply, as Pfizer-BioNTech have announced temporarily halting the deliveries and AstraZeneca informed of reduction of the previously agreed supplies to the bloc by up to 60%.

Bearing in mind that the European Commission signed a contract with the latter in August to secure 300 million doses of the vaccine (with the option to purchase an additional 100 million) on behalf of all member states, the EU’s huge dissatisfaction with the AstraZeneca's flimsy pretext of putting the blame on “supply chain problems” should not come as a surprise.

After paying more than €300m (£265m or $364m) to help the British-Swedish company to develop the vaccine by the EC, Ursula von der Leyen made clear that the "best-effort" clause invoked by AstraZeneca, referred to the vaccine development period, not when it comes to its supply after referring to the published version of their contract.

Further rubbing salt into to the wounds are statements like the one made by AstraZeneca’s CEO, Pascal Sariot, who has declared with confidence in his recent interview with Italian newspaper La Repubblica that “by March, the UK will have vaccinated maybe 28 to 30 million people,” as well as arguing that his company will be able to supply the EU once it fulfils its obligation towards the UK. Unfortunately, the UK refuses to publish details of its supply contract due to national security reasons.

Furthermore, as data gathered by Duke University suggests, AstraZeneca has plenty of orders from countries outside Europe, with the second-biggest deal struck with the U.S. Similarly, Pfizer has also managed to close multiple deals with non-EU countries, including the U.S. and China.

With a more deadly variant of COVID-19, known as the B117 type, in the background, as well as immunisation program’s setbacks and critically low supplies of available vaccines, many European countries were forced to cancel or delay first dose injections to make sure that those already-vaccinated get their second jab within an appropriate timeframe.

Brussels, on its own part, decided on 29 January 2021 to push for more transparency by introducing a new export mechanism, which requires from all vaccine suppliers to notify any intent to export vaccines produced at its territory to countries not exempted by the EU, and equips its members with powers to reject any application detrimental to the bloc’s own supplies. On the other hand, the European Commission has reserved the right to issue binding opinions concerning the very matter.

As it was confirmed, the said mechanism would not impact (along with countries like Switzerland, Norway, Israel, Palestine, Egypt, Syria, or Ukraine) humanitarian aid or COVAX, the global initiative intended to distribute vaccines to less fortunate countries around the globe. Nevertheless, it puts in an inconvenient position vis-à-vis Europe countries like UK, U.S., Canada, Russia, or Turkey, as they are not exempted from the EU’s list due to their level of development.

Moreover, as the EU’s trade chief Valdis Dombrovskis informed at the press conference on 29 January 2020, “companies applying for export authorisation will also have to provide information on their exports and export destinations, quantities and so on, for the period covering three months prior to entering into force of this regulation.”

It is perfectly understandable, as opposed to what some critics may argue, that in its race against time (and most certainly the death of European citizens) the EU took extra measures due to the fact that “the protection and safety of our citizens is a priority and the challenges we now face left us with no other choice but to act,” as Dombrovskis stated.

Putting money where its mouth is, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) approved AstraZeneca’s vaccine on 29 January 2021, which makes it the third vaccine to be cleared for use in the EU’s territory. What more, while the virus definitely knows no boundaries and is further taking its toll around the world, Germany’s Federal Health Minister Jens Spahn argued on 31 January 2021 that vaccines from China (already approved by Serbia) and Russia (already approved by Hungary) could be used in Europe to overcome the current deficit of doses.

“Regardless of the country in which a vaccine is manufactured, if they are safe and effective, they can help cope with the pandemic,” Spahn told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper.

Although the mentioned move could have potentially caused further frictions between the EU and the U.S., or UK, it is good if we become honest with ourselves about the severity of the current state of pandemic affairs and put (sometimes) blinding realpolitik aside in order to take into account the following objective factors.

Let’s face it, the longer it takes us to bring the pandemic under control, the more lives will be lost.

As of today, according to the Johns Hopkins’ live dashboard, the current global COVID-19-related infection cases have reached 103,523,528 with 2,241,147 deaths.

Knowing that a successful vaccination effort is the only sustainable way to help the economic recovery globally—the aim extremely difficult, as Oxford Economics’ “baseline forecast already assumes the crisis will cut the long-term level of world GDP by around 2%, or USD 2.1 tn” (with a “long-term GDP losses of 5%, or USD 4.9 tn”)—all countries realistically capable of helping themselves (including, despite what Liz Truss disappointingly argues, also the UK) and others should try to resist vaccine nationalism or even vaccine wars. Doing otherwise could cost the West about $4.5 trillion and the global economy $9.2 trillion, as commissioned by the International Chamber of Commerce study estimates.

Without any doubt, the current situation and the unquestionable power of big pharma compromises the health of millions around the globe, and will definitely prove to be a litmus test for the integrity of governments but most importantly of human unity.

Having said that, the West (for health-care, economic and security reasons) will be well advised to remember the prophetic wisdom of President Harry S. Truman, in that “selfishness and greed, individual or national, cause most of our troubles.”


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