UK has ‘lost all confidence in Von Der Leyen’ says Kuenssberg
The Commission chief was “weakened” by her decision to seek to ban vaccine exports to Northern Ireland by triggering Article 16 of the Brexit protocol. Mrs von der Leyen failed to consult with Dublin and other EU capitals on the proposed ban regulation.
The move has left her in a precarious position both at the eyes of the European Council and within her own team in the Commission.
Some EU officials told Politico she will find herself under more attack by the Council as national leaders were left to deal with their citizens’ outrage over the slow vaccine rollout.
A senior EU official said: “They had the backing of the 27.
“Days later, they have lost a lot of leaders — openly and less openly — along the way.”
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They added: “We have to take back control of this system we have put in place,” the senior official said. “Otherwise, we risk losing the confidence of our citizens.”
On her decision to trigger Article 16, which was later reversed, they added: “If you take an important decision like this you have to consult your member states.”
A Commission official close to Michel Barnier also told Politico: “That incident has weakened von der Leyen, even though it is in the member states’ interests not to weaken her more.”
EU leaders are now scrambling to remedy the situation in a bid to refrain eurosceptics in the bloc from benefitting.
One senior EU diplomat told Politico: “We should not shoot ourselves in our feet.
“What happened was certainly a mistake, and it was admitted.
“But we are all on the same boat, we all need vaccines to be delivered quickly and this is the clear priority for all of us … let’s turn this page quickly and move on.”
Among EU leaders, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte have come out in defence of the Commission’s handling of the bloc’s vaccine strategy, albeit acknowledging its shortfall.
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On Friday, President Macron told reporters: “On vaccine production, I think we are in the middle of the battle and in the middle of the battle we have to fight.
“I want to salute the work of Mrs. von der Leyen and her European commissioners.”
Mr Rutte told The Hague on Friday that all leaders, himself included, are struggling to manage the pandemic.
He said: “The Commission is doing a tremendous job and there was sincere disappointment about the enormously rapid decline in the numbers of vaccines that we would receive.
“The Commission really tried to be diligent in taking the right steps.
“If I were to be doing a flawless job in the Netherlands I could comment on the European Commission, but that is not the case.”
But others were not so benevolent towards the Commission chief.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Oban accused the Commission of slowing the vaccine purchases.
Mr Orban told state-owned Kossuth Rádió on Friday: “The Brussels vaccine procurement is progressing slowly.
“My benevolent reading of this is that it was important for the Brussels bureaucrats that we get vaccines as cheaply as possible, which is understandable.”
But he added: “For us, who are not Brussels bureaucrats but Hungarians, and we live here, and the sons of the different nations who organised in the union, for us the money is not irrelevant, but secondary compared to life.
“This perhaps is not as obvious in Brussels as it is here, in Budapest.”
Mrs von der Leyen will face MEPs in the European Parliament this week and will suffer the final reckoning of her mistakes at the European Council Summit later this month.
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