Germany’s bilateral order with local pharmaceutical company could strain relations with other member states as the race to sweep up vaccines heats up.
The day after Christmas, the President of the European Union Ursula von der Leyen hailed the widely anticipated rollout of the vaccine across the bloc as a “touching moment of unity.”
That moment of unity, however, might be fleeting as the union’s largest economy, Germany, has become increasingly frustrated with the slow pace of the EU’s vaccine procurement.
Only two days after Ursula von der Leyen’s announcement of the show of EU unity, Germany announced that it had struck a bilateral deal with the domestic drugmaker Pfizer and BioNtech for an additional 30 million doses that would exclusively go to the country.
In addition to the new order, Germany will also get 55.8 million vaccines as part of the EU’s wider vaccination programme, regarded by some as insufficient.
The deal was described by one analyst as the most “damaging” thing to have happened to the EU in recent years.
German politicians, however, are worried of being perceived as allowing their citizens to die unnecessarily for the sake of European unity.
On December 29 alone 1,244 Germans died from the coronavirus, a daily record in the country which has been widely hailed as tackling the spread of the virus more effectively than other countries.
Slovakia and Hungary also started vaccinating people ahead of the wider EU launch choosing to spur Leyen’s moment of unity.
Even as the death rate in the European Economic Area has mounted and now approaches half a million, Brussels has been slow to respond to the scale of the challenge.
Germany had to pressure the European Medicines Agency to approve the Pfizer and BioNtech vaccine before Christmas, a week earlier than it wanted amid claims that it was working too slowly.
The EU’s lackluster response has been recognised as a “politically dangerous situation” by Berlin according to Germany's leading magazine Der Spiegel.
A recently published report, “European Strategic Autonomy in 2020,” found the global pandemic had laid bare the EU’s lack of cohesive response to the virus.
EU countries have had no qualms with closing their borders to each other by suspending the Schengen free-travel area which allows for free movement of people across national borders.
In March, as countries tried to build their stock of protective gear and masks, EU countries moved to prevent the export of personal protective equipment to fellow member states.
“2020 has revealed the fragility of the rule of law underpinning the Union’s democratic life,” said one of the analysts reflecting on the EU’s challenges this year.
While one analyst in the report suggested “the Covid crisis could have profoundly accelerated divisions and nationalist reflexes,” and while the EU may have warded off the worst case scenario, tensions around the vaccine rollout suggest that the ghosts of nationalism are from exorcised.
On the whole, however, the report concluded that the coronavirus “ruthlessly uncovered the EU’s political fragility,” and that will take time to fix.