‘We will not forget!’ MEPs turn on ‘failed’ von der Leyen as EU chief’s apology rejected

EU has been ‘incompetent’ with covid crisis says French MEP

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The European Commission President acknowledged failings on Wednesday in the EU’s approval and rollout of vaccines against COVID-19 and said the bloc had learned lessons in the process. The chief of the EU executive was speaking to MEPs in the European Parliament following criticism of the slow roll-out of vaccines and a plan to curb exports that initially sought to set up a hard border on the island of Ireland, causing an outcry in London and Dublin.

But her mea culpa did not prove to be sufficient to squash criticism from French politicians who promptly took to Twitter to attack the EU chief.

Jerome Riviere MEP said: “The people of Europe will not forget the total failure of this EU and its dramatic handling of the health crisis.”

Echoing Mr Riviere’s comment, MEP Manon Aubry wrote: “The EU strategy on vaccines is a real fiasco; we are capable of imposing restrictions on all citizens, but not rules for big pharmaceutical companies.”

National Rally MEP Nicolas Bay added: “All countries that have ordered vaccines outside the EU are doing better. The European Union is failing.”

Mrs von der Leyen, who has also spoken at five groupings of MEPs over the past 10 days, said 26 million vaccine doses had been delivered and that, by the end of the summer, 70 percent of adults in the 27-nation bloc should have been inoculated.

She told Parliament: “And yet it is a fact that we are not today where we want to be in the fight against the virus.

“We were late with the approval.

“We were too optimistic on mass production.

“And perhaps we were also too certain that the orders would actually be delivered on time.”

Mrs von der Leyen said mistakes were also made leading up to the decision on export curbs.

“I deeply regret that,” she said, adding that the Commission would do its utmost to protect peace in Northern Ireland.

Avoiding a border between EU member Ireland and British-ruled Northern Ireland is seen as key to protecting the peace process there.

However, Mrs von der Leyen defended the Commission’s oversight and added that “in the end we got it right”.

Irish MEPs in Brussels have said more clarity is needed on how the clause came to be triggered by the commission.

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Fianna Fail’s Billy Kelleher said: “How was the decision arrived at, who made the decision, and why?

“These are fundamental questions because we do need to put in place mechanisms to ensure that commissions in the future will not make similar mistakes.

“We are playing with a very sensitive issue on the island of Ireland.”

Speaking on Newstalk’s The Hard Shoulder later, Mr Kelleher said the Commission’s actions had allowed Article 16 to become a “political football”.

He said: “The Northern Ireland Protocol and Article 16 is included for very, very obvious reasons, they’re very sensitive reasons as well.

“We didn’t want the protocol to become a political football. Unfortunately, by the European Commission invoking Article 16, it has been.

“Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister, today in Westminster, was again threatening to invoke Article 16 as well.

“I would still sincerely hope that, if there’s any accountability, that the commission should outline the timeline.

“Who decided it, why was it decided and how it actually came about that there wasn’t a red flag raised at some level in the commission.

“My concern is that I have no logical reason to understand why the commission triggered it without there actually being any evidence that vaccines were flowing through the Republic of Ireland into Northern Ireland, into Great Britain, and then out into the world.

“I mean it just wasn’t happening. So I still don’t understand why they actually triggered it.”

Green Party MEP Grace O’Sullivan questioned Mrs von der Leyen’s assertion that “in the end we got it right”.

She said: “President, you did not get it right. What concrete steps will you put in place to assure the people of Ireland, north and south, that the delicate situation on the island of Ireland is never threatened like this again?”

Additional reporting by Maria Ortega

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