Basking in Vaccine Success, E.U. Promises to Donate More Covid Shots

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In an annual speech on the state of the bloc, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen praised its coronavirus response but warned against a “pandemic without vaccination”.

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BRUSSELS – As Europeans try to lock in the gains made by vaccination campaigns, the European Union on Wednesday pledged to strengthen its preparedness for future health crises and increase coronavirus vaccine donations to low- and middle-income countries took.

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In her annual speech on the state of the European Union, Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm, praised the success in immunizing its citizens after a volatile start. But she called global vaccination the bloc’s most urgent priority, warning that wide discrepancies between rich and developing countries could lead to a “non-vaccination epidemic”.

“The scale of the injustice and the level of urgency is clear, with the global dose of less than 1 per cent in low-income countries,” Ms von der Leyen told the European Parliament in Strasbourg in eastern France on Wednesday.

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In a comprehensive speech, Ms von der Leyen addressed issues including the climate emergency, the crisis in Afghanistan, economic recovery and technological competitiveness, acknowledging its inconsistencies and flaws and praising the EU’s successes during the pandemic.

Ms von der Leyen’s confident tone, switching between English, French and German, was a sharp contrast With his speech last year, when new Covid-19 cases were ravaging the block and vaccines were months away.

“Last year, she was in a crisis mode,” said Camino Mortera-Martinez, a senior research fellow at the Center for European Reform, a think tank in Brussels. “This year, she said we need to look further.”

Despite initial misunderstandings and criticism of the vaccine procurement process by the European Commission, which negotiated doses on behalf of 27 EU countries, more than 70 percent of the adult population The block is now fully vaccinated.

This has placed the EU among the world leaders in vaccination, Ms von der Leyen said, although she acknowledged it faced wide discrepancies across the bloc, as many Eastern European countries have fallen far behind.

To prepare for any future pandemics, he announced the creation of a new biomedical agency, the Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Authority, which he said would aim to “ensure that no virus ever developed into a local pandemic.” Will not turn into a global pandemic again.”

It was unclear how the agency would operate in practice, however, as health policy is the prerogative of national governments and the European Commission has had limited leverage in the past. The bloc also houses two existing health agencies, the European Medicines Agency and the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control.

Ms von der Leyen also described how Europe had become frustrated with the chaotic withdrawal of American and European troops from Afghanistan, describing it as a symptom of an era marked by “regional rivalry and major powers turning their attention to each other”. .

Afghanistan’s failure raised “troubling questions” for NATO, arguing that Europe should act swiftly to develop a long-proposed “European Defense Union”, which would include better coordination of forces and between member states. More intelligence-sharing is involved, among those who have resisted sharing sensitive data in the past.

Ms von der Leyen also announced an EU defense summit next year, during the bloc’s six-month French presidency starting in January, and a joint declaration with NATO before the end of the year. Being able to defend himself has been a constant subject of French President Emmanuel Macron, who is up for re-election in April.

Ms von der Leyen also reiterated earlier pledges that the EU would increase humanitarian aid for Afghanistan by 100 million euros, about $118 million, and said it would be part of a broader support package for the country that would support various European efforts. will add.

He did not mention widespread European fears of a new migration crisis, saying only that the bloc would “continue to support Afghans in neighboring countries”, possibly to encourage them to stay there.

Ms von der Leyen also said the €750 billion coronavirus recovery fund adopted last year had allowed the eurozone region to overtake the United States and China in terms of growth in the last quarter, giving Europe its economic future. More needed to be done to secure. For example, it said the bloc needed to reduce its reliance on semiconductors, which are mostly made in Asia, and proposed a European Chips Act to coordinate production and supply for strategic and commercial reasons.

Focusing on the need for greater solidarity among member states, Ms von der Leyen waited until the end of her speech to mention the contentious issue of respect for the rule of law. Sensitive issues about independence of the judiciary, rights of minorities and freedom of the media have pitted the European Commission against Poland and Hungary.

But she did not single …

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