Former Belgian prime minister and ardent EU cheerleader Guy Verhofstadt has branded the bloc’s vaccination efforts a ‘fiasco’.
Verhofstadt called on Brussels to renegotiate its ‘ill-conceived’ contracts with manufacturers in a video titled ‘the inconvenient truth behind the vaccination fiasco of the EU’.
The MEP is an outspoken critic of Brexit who campaigned with the Liberal Democrats in the 2019 EU elections and even used their slogan ‘B*****ks to Brexit’.
But in the nine-minute clip, Verhofstadt blamed the European Commission for the shortages and slow rollout and slammed the ‘diplomatic disaster’ brought about by triggering Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol.
‘If you believe in Europe, if you love Europe, it’s your duty to be the most vocal critic, especially when Europe falls short of its potential and our expectations.
‘That’s exactly what’s happening now with the vaccinations. It’s a fiasco,’ Verhofstadt said.
European Union member states are considerably lagging behind the United Kingdom in their vaccine rollouts
Verhofstadt pointed out that while the majority of coronavirus vaccines were produced in Europe, EU countries were falling behind on vaccine rollouts.
Only four per cent of EU citizens have received their first dose, compared to 20 per cent in the UK and more than half in Israel.
‘It is not so much the capacity in Europe that is the problem, but the allocation of the produced doses,’ Verhofstadt said.
‘There is a crucial lack of supply in every European member state, a lack that we don’t see in the same dramatic proportions in countries like, for example, in the United States, in Britain, in Canada or in Israel’.
In the video, posted to Facebook on Saturday, Verhofstadt blamed the slow roll out on the contracts between the EU and the drug manufacturers, seeming to dismiss European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen’s explanation last week that Brussels had simply been ‘too optimistic’ regarding production and delivery.
The EU boasts of having secured access to more than 2.3billion doses, but its failure to get supplies has been blamed in part for the sluggish pace of the roll-out.
Brussels did not strike a deal with AstraZeneca until three months after Britain ordered the jabs, a delay which the firm says is responsible for the UK continuing to be fully supplied while shipments are held up on the continent.
Similarly, the EU did not make an agreement with Pfizer until soon after the first trial results were reported in November, whereas Britain and the US had deals last July.
London and Washington also spent more money from public coffers investing in the development of a vaccine than Brussels did.
Seeking to relieve its supply problems, the EU caused further chaos last month by imposing export controls which briefly threatened to undermine the hard-won Brexit agreement on Northern Ireland.
Verhofstadt is an outspoken EU cheerleader and Brexit critic who campaigned with then-Liberal Democrat Vince Cable, pictured, ahead of the 2019 European elections
Last week, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen (pictured) said Brussels had been ‘too optimistic’ regarding production volumes and deadlines for regulatory approval of vaccines [File photo]
Verhofstadt, who twice ran for the commission presidency, said the contracts were vague and gave too much wiggle room to pharmaceutical companies at the potential expense of the health of Europeans.
‘I think the measures taken by the Commission are hugely symbolic, insufficient and counter-productive,’ he said.
Verhofstadt urged the EU medicine’s agency to follow faster approval procedures for new vaccines and called for a renegotiation of the ‘ill-conceived’ contracts to include binding deadlines.
It comes after the Amsterdam-based agency approved the Pfizer and AstraZeneca jabs long after they had already been put into widespread use in the UK.
The Belgian also called for more funding for the pharmaceutical sector and for the EU to organise the acquisition of medicines to avoid making similar mistakes in any future pandemic.
‘The European Union is not a problem, but the solid basis for the solution,’ he said.
The EU is also struggling to keep members in line on border closures, which it had hoped to avoid after chaotic traffic and freight hold-ups last spring.
Germany has unilaterally started checks on its Czech and Austrian borders to slow the spread of the UK, Brazil and South Africa variants of the disease.
Angela Merkel’s government has not ruled out doing the same with France, which urged Germany not to inflict a ‘nasty surprise’ by closing the border.
Belgium’s ban on non-essential travel, imposed last month, has also sparked unease from the Commission.