IT would be facile to exhibit schadenfreude over the EU’s vaccine nassehundekotmeer. The hard fact is that the EU’s failure may have a price in human lives if people die for want of vaccination against China’s gift to the world to mark the Year of the Stainless Steel Rat. However this should not prevent analysis of what went so badly wrong.
The EU’s problem is relative because its vaccine rollout is being compared unfavourably with the UK’s. In normal times this would not be so much of an issue. However we in the UK have been bombarded for the last half-decade with strident propaganda telling us how wonderful the EU is in all aspects of human existence, how terrible the UK is by comparison, and therefore how awful it would be for the UK to leave the EU, or to leave with a deal that detached the UK from the grasp of the EU’s integrationist tentacles, not least the European Medicines Agency. The stress test of the pandemic has shown that all this propaganda is poppycock.
There has been a domino effect to the EU’s predicament. The first domino to topple was the failure to order vaccine in a timely fashion. When finally ordered, poorly-worded contracts were such that supply could not be guaranteed. This was followed by verbal attacks on a vaccine supplier that was working to a contract agreed with stratospherically-remunerated EU officials, then the imposition of a ban on legally-contracted vaccine exports from the EU. Barely a month after the EU-UK trade agreement was finalised, the EU ordered a hard border in Ireland to stop aforesaid exports, but did not bother to tell the Irish Prime Minister before imposing it.
The EU Commission was behaving like a junta in a panic when horrifying reality finally bursts through the façade of jackbooted self-delusion. The most recently toppled domino has been EU Commissioner Ursula von der Leyen dumping on her trade commissioner subordinate Valdis Dombrovskis as the scapegoat for the entire mess.
Perhaps the EU Commission President should not be blamed for this execrable outcome. The alternative to centralised action by the EU would have been member states competing with each other to obtain supplies of serum. We would have seen a German Vakzineanschluss, a French exception de vaccin, a Dutch vaccin dijk, an Italian opera di vaccino, a Spanish inquisició de vacunes, a Polish instalacja wodociągowa do szczepionek . . . I expect you get the idea. This would have been hardly what ‘ever-closer union’ meant and the buying power of the larger economies would have crowded out the smaller economies. A chaotic scramble would have reasonably called into question the point of EU membership for such nations.
Britain’s comparative success is explained by 19th century author Walter Bagehot, author of The English Constitution, who observed that British governance was a hybrid of the dignified and efficient. The dignified is adherence to established tradition, custom, practice, typified by institutions such as the monarchy, and events such as the State Opening of Parliament and the Queen’s Speech. The efficient was the rapidity with which change may be implemented. Bagehot summarised it thus: ‘The efficient secret of the English Constitution may be described as the close union, the nearly complete fusion of the executive and legislative powers. According to the traditional theory, as it exists in all the books, the goodness of our constitution consists in the entire separation of the legislative and executive authorities, but in truth its merit consists in their singular approximation. The connecting link is the Cabinet. By that new word we mean a committee of the legislative body selected to be the executive body.’
In the EU, the executive portion is fully separated from the legislative. Von der Leyen does not have to command any confidence of the EU Parliament; she cannot be dragged to any chamber to answer an Urgent Question. She did not win a specific election to get where she is today. She is both the ‘dignified’ and the ‘efficient’ part of EU governance. The problem is that the dignified elements seem to leak into the efficient and this has resulted in this undignified inefficiency.
The uselessness of the EU Parliament is demonstrated by the fact that EU voters will be unable to take their revenge on von der Leyen’s incompetence through the ballot box. They can punish only their national governments, whose mistake was to agree to pool sovereignty many years ago. This relegates EU Parliament elections to the status of an EU-wide opinion poll on the performance of the member governments or a referendum on individual countries’ membership of the EU, but nothing to do with EU policy or the composition of its executive bodies. It is on this basis that the EU demands that its representative is accorded the honour of diplomatic status in the UK. It is on this basis that the UK has refused to do so.
I may be doing an injustice to the institutions of the EU. It could be that they are as efficient as ours, but the comparative failure may be due to another inconvenient truth. For decades, the member countries have not been sending their best people to run the EU Commission. From the UK, we sent two-time loser Neil Kinnock, dodgy serial Cabinet resigner Peter Mandelson and utter unknown Baroness Ashton. Von der Leyen left a trail of disaster in the German government in every office she held. Her subordinate Valdis Dombrovskis, whilst Latvian Prime Minister, watered down building regulations which led to the collapse of a shopping centre that killed dozens. He quit his office but went straight into his EU post, which seems like a reward. If the EU Commission keeps hiring proven losers, perhaps it is no surprise if fluffs a major test.
The solution seems simple. Despite signing up to ‘ever-closer union’, the EU member states seem a tad virginal about actually consummating this union. From a British perspective, there needs to be less dignity and more efficiency. There needs to be a straight line between the EU voter and its executive without these diversions and roadblocks. Sovereignty should be surrendered upwards instead of just ‘pooled’. Better people at the height of their powers need to be brought into the Commission.
The UK voted to leave the EU because, despite years of entreaties, the EU demonstrated itself incapable of meaningful reform as it was blocked from doing so by adherence to ideology in a way that resembled the USSR. That reform is necessary should be self-evident.
The EU was set up to prevent political and economic dislocation on the continent of a kind that previously had been caused by regimes that refused to reform in the face of changing circumstances. It was a consequence of the lessons of history. It now runs the risk of being a lesson itself.