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Thursday, December 9, 2021

Europe’s week: Borrell and von der Leyen face their critics

Coming back from his recent trip to Moscow last week, the EU’s foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell faced an avalanche of criticism.

MEPs dubbed the visit ill-prepared, ill-advised, ill-timed, disastrous and humiliating.

They claimed Borrell did not do enough to push back against his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov over the recent jailing of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.

The humiliation came when he learned of Russia’s expelling of three European diplomats via Twitter, during a working lunch, they said.

Beyond the European Parliament, Poland’s president, Andrzej Duda, was among those keen to criticise Borrell.

“Mr Borrell should have demanded that Mr Navalny be released and that political harassment be stopped,” Duda said. “This goal has not been achieved at all, and I would go further and ask a basic question: what was the purpose of this visit in this case and what did it bring not only to Mr Borrell but above all to the European Community? And I am counting on the fact that these questions will soon be answered.”

Borrell defended himself in front of MEPs at the European Parliament Tuesday, but more than 70 were already demanding his resignation in a strongly worded letter addressed to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

… before von der Leyen defends EU’s vaccine strategy
It wasn’t just Borrell facing down critics. Von der Leyen was in the spotlight too, responding to flak for the bloc’s slow vaccine rollout.

She admitted failures but tried to explain away the botched process on technical grounds.

“There is not a compromise we can make when it comes to injecting people with biologically active substances into an individual with good health. And that`’s the reason why we rely on the European Medicines Agency procedure, and yes, that means that the approval takes from three to four weeks more,” von der Leyen told MEPs.

The European vaccination strategy has been criticised from many angles.

One is, of course, the question of who gets the vaccine when and who gets it first.

An argument that is gaining traction in some parts, is that Europe is getting its vaccination strategy entirely wrong by not focusing on young people and only on the elderly and health care workers.

According to Dr Julian Tang, a clinical virologist in respiratory sciences at the University of Leicester, the idea is to immunise the young people to protect the older people.

“If there is no source of the virus in young people, then older people are actually not exposed to any danger,” Tang told Euronews.

“And also, if you immunise younger adults, they can actually go back into the economy, open their business and shops, the services that old people tend to use normally and also allow our young people who are customers to then support those businesses. And if they’re all immunised, all protected, there is no source of virus for the old people to be infected from. And this actually solves two problems, the economy and also the service industry, including the schools and universities.”

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