Vaccine dispute leads to trouble with Britain
The decision of the EU Commission to control the export of vaccines is causing outrage in Great Britain and Ireland. The fear: controls on the EU’s external border with Northern Ireland. That is why the EU gave way during the night.
The dispute between the EU and the British-Swedish company AstraZeneca over the supply of vaccines has led to massive resentment between the government in London and the Commission in Brussels.
The background to this is the decision of the EU to make the export of vaccines subject to approval in the future after AstraZeneca announced that it could only provide a fraction of the promised delivery. The assumption is that vaccines produced in the EU were delivered to third countries such as Great Britain.
In a text on the EU website on Friday evening, the impression was given that Brussels wanted to set in motion an emergency mechanism that would allow controls at the inner-Irish border. The move, which was apparently neither coordinated with Dublin nor London, aroused outrage in Great Britain and especially in Northern Ireland.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called on the EU to disclose its intentions regarding possible controls on the Irish-Northern Irish border. He spoke of “serious concern” and spoke to Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. As reported by Irish TV broadcaster RTE, Ireland’s Prime Minister Micheál Martin was also in contact with von der Leyen to express his concerns.
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The EU reacted to the criticism that night and gave in. Monitoring of exports will “ensure that the Northern Ireland Protocol remains intact,” the commission said.
Commission President von der Leyen tweeted that she had agreed with Irish Prime Minister Martin on a “satisfactory way” to monitor vaccine exports.
Northern Ireland is closely linked to the EU
Due to the Northern Ireland Protocol negotiated by London and Brussels, the part of the country belonging to Great Britain is even more closely tied to the EU despite Brexit and continues to follow the rules of the EU internal market. This is to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, which could lead to the flare-up of old, violent conflicts. Export controls between the EU and Northern Ireland would contradict this regulation.
In an initial declaration, the EU referred to Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol, which allows unilateral protective measures in the event of unexpected negative effects of the agreement. Brussels later made it clear: “The Commission is not activating the safeguard clause.” However, if vaccines are exported to third countries without authorization, the EU will use all available means, it said.