The COVID-19 vaccine role out, seen by many as the lifeline back to normality and the end of the pandemic, has over the last few months become a political win for some politicians, and a disaster for others. Leaders of countries that put in early orders for the vaccine, such as the UK, Serbia and Israel have been quick to try to gain credit for the successful role out in their countries, while EU leaders have been in much more difficult positions
The European Commission, headed by Ursula von der Leyen insisted on an EU-wide vaccine order, arguing that the EU, by making one large order for its 750 million-strong population, could get more preferable terms compared to the 27 member states making smaller orders separately. This policy had the potential to be a big win for the European Union, giving it the opportunity to get the credit for ending the pandemic by being the one to provide the vaccine for the member states. The European Union would also be in a position to wield political power over national governments as it dished out the vaccine doses to each member state.
Unfortunately for the commission, this policy started to backfire from the beginning. EU bureaucracy was blamed for delaying the vaccine order, and then production issues delayed the vaccine role out further. Over three months after the vaccination program started in the EU, little over 10% of their population has had the first dose. Meanwhile, the UK, which left the EU back in the January of 2020, has managed to give nearly 50% of its population their first dose. Also Serbia, another non-EU European country has managed to vaccinate over 20% of its population. The economic powerhouses of Germany and France are finding themselves left in the dust by other European countries that are not members of the EU, not only other rich countries (like the UK), but more embarrassingly by poor countries such as Serbia.
Not only has this led to accusations of incompetence against the commission, more significantly it has undermined the regularly used argument for the EU, that a large block can wield more negotiating power. The situation risks invigorating new life into the Eurosceptic political movements in member states, which is an existential threat to the European Project altogether.
To improve the EU’s own vaccine supply they have threatened export bans out of the block, angering nations around the world, most of all the UK. To prevent vaccines from passing over the Irish border to the UK the EU triggered an emergency override provision within the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement restricting movement over the Irish border, not only enraging the British, but also the Irish leading to a humiliating U-turn. Each action they took seemed to embarrass the commission further, only succeeding in highlighting Europe’s vaccination problems. It has also led to threats of “tit for tat” action by the British against the EU.
The rift between Britain and the EU in relation to vaccines so soon after Brexit has really given their post-Brexit relationship to a bad start. Bad-will has spread among the British population against the EU, with the number who supported British membership of the block plummeting from 47 to 39 percent - a major change in the context of the stability that has been seen on this issue since the Brexit referendum in 2016.
Back in late December both the UK and EU were hailing the success of the future relationship negotiations and the free trade agreement. There was hope that now the negotiating period was over the relationship between the UK and the block would improve.
As Bible believers, we know that at the end times Britain and the EU will not have close ties or allies. In Ezekiel 38:13 we see Tarshish (an ancient name for Britain) accusing the nations that come against Israel (which includes the European block) of invading for selfish reasons, to appropriate the wealth of Israel.
“Art thou come to take a spoil? hast thou gathered thy company to take a prey? to carry away silver and gold, to take away cattle and goods, to take a great spoil?”
- Eze 38:13 -
The relationship between the UK and EU being difficult is exactly what we would expect to see based on this chapter. It may be that we are seeing the beginning of the preparation for Armageddon!
The pressure on the EU has been mounting further over recent weeks as member states have begun to break ranks and place their own independent orders for vaccines without consulting with the EU commission. Many of the western countries producing vaccines already have orders going into 2023, meaning that many EU member states have placed their orders from Russia.
Back in August 2020 when Putin unveiled the Sputnik vaccine to the world, it was met with ridicule. The vaccine had undergone very little testing, and few countries were willing to grant it emergency authorisation. It was hardly used even in Russia. But people aren’t laughing at it anymore. Since August it has undergone a lot more testing, and for many it is the only vaccine available.
Western countries such as the United States and the UK are taking the lion share of the vaccines they produce to vaccinate their own people. Russia has chosen a very different tactic, they are prioritising vaccine exports to other countries above their own domestic requirements. While Russia has only vaccinated 5% of their population they are exporting their vaccine to countries all over the world with much higher vaccination rates. Many have dubbed this policy “vaccine diplomacy”, accusing Russia of trying to win power and influence in the rest of the world.
Hungary was the first EU country to start using Sputnik in January and quickly became one of the most vaccinated countries in the EU at 21% becoming the envy of many others in the EU. Slovakia has followed suit and put in an order for 4 million doses. Austria, Czech Republic are in negotiations for supplies from Russia and now even France and Germany are beginning to consider it.
The European Commission is quickly finding itself left behind as the nation-states move from looking to the EU for vaccines to looking to Russia. Germany has urged the Commission to make a bulk purchase for the EU while the European Medicine Agency works on approval for Sputnik V.