Ursula von der Leyen has been in crisis mode for a year, but now she is experiencing the first crisis in which she herself becomes driven. The chorus of their critics has become louder and louder in the past few days and weeks. The hardest sentences come from Germany of all places. In the Federal Cabinet she was attacked by Vice Chancellor Olaf Scholz: “It really went shit”, the vaccine order from the European Union is said to have said. Markus Söder was also “disappointed” about the way the commission explained the obvious deficits.
Political correspondent for the European Union, NATO and the Benelux countries based in Brussels.
In the meantime, however, other heads of government are also afraid. The Irish head of government felt “taken by surprise” by the commission when it suddenly threatened a hard border on the island of Ireland at the end of January to prevent vaccine exports to Great Britain. Elsewhere it is said that von der Leyen is stabbing the member states in the back if she gives them lofty vaccination targets but cannot ensure that the vaccine quantities negotiated by her authority will actually be delivered. The heads of government will discuss the situation in two weeks – the Commission President has to be prepared for tough questions. She will get to hear them this Wednesday too, when she has to answer in the European Parliament.
Under the enormous pressure, the President changed her communication. She admitted mistakes in a tour of the factions and in interviews. The challenges of mass production were underestimated, she said. And she should have warned of complications earlier. But what exactly had gone wrong remained an approximate. The same was true of the Northern Ireland disaster: Von der Leyen took over “full responsibility”. But so far she has not said anything about who made the mistake.
Small war with Astra-Zeneca
That was ten days ago. At the end of a week in which the Commission was involved in a guerrilla war with Astra-Zeneca, it suddenly took out the big club. Manufacturers should not only register and approve exports of vaccines and precursors in advance. The Commission openly threatened to reintroduce border controls on the island of Ireland. To do this, it would have activated Article 16, the safeguard clause for “serious” and “likely to persist”. A political uprising broke out, first in Dublin and Belfast, then in London. A few hours later, Brussels meekly withdrew.
Who screwed up? The direct vicinity of the Leyens immediately pointed to the General Directorate for Trade. She had the lead and designed the export control mechanism. There were also those people who knew the Northern Ireland Protocol because they had negotiated it, said a source in the FAZ. On the way through the committees, the reference to Article 16 was simply “overlooked”. Von der Leyen then pulled the emergency brake as soon as she found out about the clause, in the “late afternoon”. The president as a savior in need – a beautiful story. But it is not true.