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Nationalism is not the answer to the crisis

Wednesday, 17 February 2021
This is an opinion article by an external contributor. The views belong to the writer.

As a fairly common human being, I accept the fact, that we tend to panic from time to time.

The Covid-19 pandemic invites us often to do so. Recently due to the oral fights between the EU Commission and the pharmaindustry on delivery of vaccines. Loudly accompanied by many of my worried colleagues. Many shouted for the ban of export from the EU.

But an EU ban on vaccine exports would be a case of vaccine nationalism and would ultimately jeopardise Europe’s ability to protect our citizens.

The European Commission has announced measures to restrict the export of vaccines.

While I all fully understand the frustration across Europe at possible delays in the supply of vaccines, preventing the EU from exporting supplies would be a case of vaccine nationalism that EU leaders have previously attacked.

The decision to make it possible to ban exports is motivated by the desire to put pressure on companies to deliver the promised amount of vaccines. While the mechanism exists, the EU doesn’t have to use it. Moreover, we shouldn’t.

When the US administration threatened to keep vaccines to itself last year the EU rightly criticised the move, calling instead for global cooperation.

Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission President, said in November that the pandemic could only be defeated “if the world unites”. Instead of the EU seeking only to look after its own citizens, she set up a global initiative to secure the supply of vaccines for the entire world. This is an important part of ‘The European Way of Life’.

To impose an export ban now would expose the EU to the justified accusation of double standards. What would happen if other countries followed suit and put in place their own bans? Before long, everyone would lose out.

Of course, it is challenging to deal with the delays in providing the essential supplies of vaccines that our citizens expect, to protect them from the virus and the devastation it has caused to our communities. However, defeating COVID-19 requires all of us to work together, as President von der Leyen herself has said.

Pharmaceutical companies have developed vaccines with astonishing speed. Some countries have already made an impressive start to vaccinating their citizens. Around seven million doses have been administered in the short time since the first vaccine was approved.

This has involved a truly impressive collaboration between researchers, healthcare professionals, logistic companies and many, many essential people in the supply chain from production to delivery. The EU institutions and governments have worked together in ways never seen before. This collaboration should act as an example of how we work together to ensure that citizens get the vaccines they need. An export ban would be a disservice to all the people who have worked so hard and what they have achieved.

Developing and producing vaccines with the speed and efficiency we have seen depends on global supply chains. Essential vaccine manufacturing supplies are made inside and outside the EU; we rely on supplies from outside the EU for our production as much as they rely on us. If we were to break our part of the chain by banning exports, we would run the risk of provoking retaliation from our partners. They would rightly judge the EU on its actions rather than its warm words about global cooperation. They could respond by refusing to supply us with the ingredients we need or by keeping for themselves the vaccines, they produce. There would only be losers and no winners. This outcome must be avoided at all costs.

We have seen the tide of populist nationalism turned back in one of our transatlantic partners. We must act to ensure that we don’t have to deal with vaccine nationalism instead. I urge the European Commission and EU leaders to step back from a decision that could have profound and harmful consequences for the health and protection of our citizens.

Let’s work to solve the Covid-19 crisis without panicking!

By MEP Pernille Weiss, member of EPP