Emmanuel Macron: EU’s sluggish vaccine rollout ‘lacked ambition’

Nicolas CecilThu, 25 March 2021, 11:02 am

 (AFP/Getty Images)
(AFP/Getty Images)

Emmanuel Macron admitted today that the EU had “lacked ambition” over its sluggish vaccine roll-out.

Ahead of an EU video-conference summit, the French president told of his frustration that the European bloc was lagging behind BritainAmerica and Israel in delivering jabs to millions of citizens.

“We didn’t shoot for the stars. That should be a lesson for all of us. We were wrong to lack ambition, to lack the madness, I would say, to say: It’s possible, let’s do it,” he told Greek television channel ERT.

Mr Macron, though, has himself been accused of undermining vaccination programmes by questioning how well the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab works.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel defended the decision for the European Commission to try to arrange vaccinations for all EU countries.

Amid the bust-up between Britain and Brussels over vaccine exports, she told German MEPs: “Now that we see even small differences in the distribution of vaccines cause big discussions, I would not like to imagine if some member states had vaccines and others did not. That would shake the internal market to its core.”

Meanwhile, one of Britain’s most respected scientists branded the European Union’s threat to block vaccine exports as “very regrettable” and called for more “statesmanship” by all political leaders.

Sir Jeremy Farrar, chair of the Wellcome Trust, said the EU’s attempts to overturn AstraZeneca contracts “is sending repercussions all around the world” and risked disrupting the “free flow” of vital components in future.

But he also aimed his remarks at politicians on all sides, urging them to settle their arguments and not waste the achievements of the scientific community.

“Science has really delivered over the last year and now we really do need our politicians to make sure that we make that science available to the most number of people all over the world,” he said.

The Government appeared confident that its deal with AstraZeneca for Oxford doses made in the EU would hold up.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said it “trumps” the weaker contracts negotiated belatedly by the European Commission.

“They have a ‘best efforts’ contract and we have an exclusivity deal,” he told the FT. “Our contract trumps theirs. It’s called contract law, it’s very straight forward.”

Children’s minister Vicky Ford said she hopes a joint statement between the UK and the European Union issued last night had “calmed down some of the tensions”.

But speaking ahead of Thursday’s EU summit, where demands to speed up procurement was set to dominate discussions, Sir Jeremy made clear the dismay felt in the scientific community.

Appearing on the BBC’s Today programme, Sir Jeremy said of the EU threats: “It is very regrettable.”

He welcomed the joint-statement but emphasised: “We are all dependent on this. Supply chains of how we make vaccines are by necessity international. they cross borders. and an argument between the UK and the European Union at the moment on this is sending repercussions all around the world, I’m afraid.

“We need to make vaccines available to everybody, we need to have a free flow of contracts [and] contracts honoured. And so that we can get vaccines, not just to our own countries but all around the world.

“So I hope that we now see an outbreak of statecraft and skilled diplomacy and frankly leadership because science has really delivered over the last year and now we really do need our politicians to make sure that we make that science available to the most number of people all over the world.”

European leaders are due to consider proposed regulations drawn up by Ursula von der Leyen that could empower her Commission to forbid exports in some circumstances. However the 11th hour joint-statement by the EU and UK promised a diplomatic approach and co-operation to boost overall vaccine supplies.

Sir Jeremy said the “biggest risk” to the UK now was from new mutations of coronavirus, and the best protection lay in vaccinating other countries. “Supplying vaccines to the world is actually the way we can protect ourselves.

“The biggest risk at the moment for this pandemic is that new variants appear anywhere in the world and eventually come back to haunt us in our own countries.”

Ms Ford told Good Morning Britain: “I think it is really helpful that both the UK and the EU worked together yesterday on that joint statement saying they want to work together to make sure there is that reciprocity and making sure the vaccine continues to flow across borders.

“That is so important and that is what we will all continue to work towards.”

Ms Ford added: “We need to all work on this together and I hope that the joint statement that came out of the EU and the UK yesterday has calmed down some of the tensions.”

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