Tensions Between Brussels and London are Increasing over Vaccine Exports
In the conflict over scarce vaccines, the European Commission seeks to control exports. Northern Ireland considers it an “act of hostility” but von der Leyen’s efforts clarified the situation.
In the vaccine dispute with Great Britain, the EU tried to mediate the current situation. “Constructive talks with Prime Minister Boris Johnson,” tweeted Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Saturday night. “In principle, we have agreed that there should be no restrictions on the export of vaccines by companies if they meet their contractual obligations.”
In response to the vaccine manufacturer AstraZeneca’s massive supply cuts, the EU seeks to monitor the export quantities of vaccines produced within the EU. However, in an initial statement, it appeared as if Brussels wished to conduct controls on the Irish-Northern Irish border for this project and thus activate an emergency mechanism of the so-called Northern Ireland Protocol.
The move, which was apparently neither coordinated with Dublin nor London, aroused outrage in Great Britain and especially in Northern Ireland. With this step, the EU arguably sought to protect itself against unregulated vaccine doses reaching Great Britain via Northern Ireland as a back door.
The European Union and the United Kingdom have only one land border, and it runs between the EU member state Ireland and the British province of Northern Ireland. In the course of the Brexit negotiations, however, it was agreed that no controls should take place at this border in order not to endanger the fragile peace in the former civil war region of Northern Ireland.
It was not until late Friday evening that the EU Commission gave in and promised in a communication that it would leave the Northern Ireland Protocol “untouched” in its export controls on vaccines. The protective measures clause of the protocol will not be activated.
The dispute had turned into a diplomatic crisis between London and Brussels in the hours before. Boris Johnson spoke of “grave concern” and Northern Ireland’s Prime Minister Arlene Foster even spoke of an “act of hostility”. Despite the EU’s rapid backward movement, the events are likely to leave their mark on the already tense relations between both sides and not make the struggle for the precious corona vaccine any easier.
EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who had previously spoken to Johnson on the phone, also tweeted that she had agreed with Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin on a “satisfactory way” to monitor vaccine exports.
(Image: Wikimedia Commons CC BY 2.0)