A president on the ropes
Emmanuel Macron seems to be delighted these days to denigrate AstraZeneca (and by extension, the United Kingdom) in order to divert French anger from its deplorable mismanagement of the coronavirus pandemic. Faced with a third wave that is quickly spiraling out of control and resisting clinicians’ calls for a complete lockdown to stem the surge in cases, he is now basing his hopes (and perhaps his political salvation) on a massive roll-out of vaccination and the arrival of warmer weather to keep the coronavirus under control.
On the offensive
At last week’s EU summit, he was on the offensive again, fully supporting the EU’s ban on vaccine exports, saying countries with better vaccination rates (the UK, obviously) “Cannot be allowed to advance on the backs of Europeans”. Vaccination against Covid is a battle, he said, “a battle that Europe must win”. And if you are leading a battle, it always helps identify the enemy. In this case, AstraZeneca, an Anglo-Swedish company which delivered at cost price a vaccine invented in Oxford and developed with British taxpayers’ money. AstraZeneca would not be allowed to fulfill its legally binding contract with the UK government from its factories in the EU until it has delivered millions of doses to the EU, under a subsequent contract that does not promised nothing beyond “best efforts”. It is largely due to production problems at its factories in the EU that AstraZeneca’s best efforts have failed. The European Commission insists that the company cannot produce doses for the EU at any of its factories outside the EU except those in the UK, which naturally fulfill the contract signed by AstraZeneca months earlier with the UK government.
Save money, not lives
The EU has been in retreat throughout the pandemic. He bought vaccines late and bought them at the best possible price. French Minister for Europe, Clément Beaune, said last fall that the UK was paying three times as much to vaccinate its population as France (the implications of this bragging are quite disgusting and seem lost on Mr Beaune) . The EU has forced production to be limited to EU factories in order to enjoy single market advantages. Its penny-pinching protectionism is the root cause of its current vaccine deficit. European politicians have compounded the Commission’s mistakes by making irresponsible (if not slanderous) statements about the effectiveness of the AstraZeneca vaccine and by suspending vaccinations on the basis of false news. All of this, it seems, to cover up their inability to develop and run a mass vaccination program to protect their citizens. It is a failure on an epic scale that will, alas, be a personal tragedy for many.
Turning a crisis into a disaster
The third wave is taking hold on the continent, the vaccination rollout is painfully slow and a cheap and effective vaccine has been so discredited by EU leaders, foremost President Macron, that people are now refusing to take it.
Macron is keen to blame the virus storm about to engulf his presidency on a foreign pharmaceutical company, rather than his refusal to listen to his scientific advisers and passing half-measures that did nothing to control the spread. He is re-elected next year, the French economy is set to take another big hit from the coronavirus due to the botched vaccination program (the EU as a whole is set to lose € 123 billion), and as he has positioned himself as the final arbiter on France’s response to the pandemic, the responsibility should normally end with him. But the president, nicknamed the powdery by some critics (a reference to the powdery hair sported by French autocrats of the past), has no intention of not winning a second term.
I am the state
In 2016, a year before his election, bookstores in Paris were inundated with a biography on Emmanuel Macron called The banker who wanted to be king. He was certainly channeling his interior Louis XIV (and perhaps his interior Edith Piaf) after the Council of the EU last week: “I can tell you that I didn’t MEA culpa to do, no remorse, no failure to recognize. In other words, I regret nothing.
Like the doomed French monarchy, it seems Macron has learned nothing and forgets nothing. He is incapable of learning from his mistakes – if you don’t admit you made them, you can’t. And he will never forget, nor forgive, Britain’s rejection of its beloved European project, a version of the Carolingian Empire where France calls for blows.
In addition to firmly supporting the EU’s vaccine export ban (highly questionable legality under international law), he pledged that not only will France become the epicenter of global vaccine production, with factories producing life-saving vaccines to save the whole world through the Covax program (to which the UK contributes more than the whole of the EU27, by the way), but that all French citizens will be offered the Covid vaccination by summer.
But where will all the vaccines he promised to the French public come from?
Vaccine war? But no…
European sources said “a loaded gun was put on the table” at the EU summit (vaccine export control). Its barrel is pointing to London, with the aim of forcing the UK to offer Brussels some of its own vaccines in exchange for the EU graciously allowing vaccines paid for by the UK government to be shipped from the continent to the UK. Contract law? Private companies? Legal injunctions? Forget it. This loaded weapon has of course nothing to do with the outbreak of a vaccine war, according to French Foreign Minister Yves Le Drian. How ridiculous that would be. But in an interview on March 26, he continued to accuse the British government of “blackmail” (over what is unclear) by refusing to give back millions of doses of a vaccine that British citizens are happy about. to take, but which has been so trashed by European politicians that EU countries store more hits than they can deliver. He went on to point out that the UK “has a problem with second doses”, implying that the EU would ban the export of vaccines (mainly Pfizer) to the UK, thus directly threatening British citizens. more vulnerable who received first-dose vaccines within a few months. since. This threat has now been explicitly formulated by French MEP Pascal Canfin (EU ready to deprive Britons of second doses of vaccine), who is “confident” that Britain will forgo UK-made AstraZeneca vaccines in order to receive second-dose Pfizer vaccines (which, however, rely on UK components).
If it’s not a war, the images, threats, and possible consequences surely make it look like one.
The British press has kept abreast of Le Drian’s threats, but does not seem to have noticed where this French assault is heading or how it was carefully put in place. Clarifications were made on Saturday, in an interview given by French Minister of Industry Agnès Pannier-Runacher, who was pleased to announce a sharp increase in the availability of vaccines in France from April.
Speaking of AstraZeneca, she said without hesitation that the European Union “got doses by blocking doses in Italy. There is now a pool of 29 million doses [of AZ]. Out of 29 million doses, 16 million were intended for the European market. We are discussing the rest of these doses, but the benefit now is that we have got our hands on them.. »
It seems that far from considering a simple export ban, the French government is talking about the seizure of private property at a pharmaceutical factory. And it was planned. A totally false accusation was made the day before the EU summit that AstraZeneca had “stored” vaccines bottled at its factory in Italy in order to “pass” them to the UK. On “information” from the French European Commissioner (of course) Thierry Le Breton, the Italian police raided the premises. Imagine that. Armed riflemen Raid on a pharmaceutical bottling plant and seizure of vaccines… It turned out that the doses were in fact intended for the EU (Belgium was mentioned) and third countries under the Covax regime. History turned cold at the time of the EU summit, with the public naturally assuming that EU vaccines would be shipped to EU countries and Covax vaccines to their rightful recipients.
But remember: ” We got our hands on them“. Did the French minister lie about “discussions” (probably with the EU) on the sharing of the “hidden” vaccine reserve? It seems not. The French Minister for omnipresent Europe, Clément Beaune, announced on March 28 on France 2 that France would receive “at least 2 million” of these doses “found” in Italy … But then 16 million doses were already intended for ‘EU.
Communications war or vaccine war?
So, is this yet another front in the French communications war against AstraZeneca, to put a good face on President Macron by claiming to obtain “hidden” vaccines that were intended for the EU anyway, or will France it receive 2 million additional doses of the 13 million AstraZeneca vaccines blocked in Italy which should be exported to poorer countries as part of the Covax program? This is an extremely important question.
If the latter were true (and we sincerely hope it isn’t), it would represent not only the ultimate hypocrisy of Mr. Macron, so eager to polish his humanitarian credentials by offering to vaccinate the whole world, but a flagrant violation of the law.