Matthew Lynn Matthew Lynn

The vaccine disaster has fatally undermined the EU

It might be a bit late, but the supply will come on tap eventually. France’s Sanofi has partnered with Pfizer to start manufacturing its vaccine. BioNTech has just bought a factory in Marburg, Germany from Switzerland’s drugs giant Novartis to retrofit into a vaccine plant. With plenty of money being splashed around, production will arrive soon. Making vaccines is tricky, but not that tricky. By the summer, Europe should have enough Covid-19 shots to jab everyone who wants one.

Crisis over, right? Ursula von der Leyen can get back to setting diversity targets, or making climate pledges, or whatever it was she was up to before people started asking why the Israelis and the British were inoculating people so much faster than she was. While Stella Kyriakides, the EU heath commissioner, can slink back to the relative obscurity of Cypriot politics. The whole saga will blow over, and everyone can get back to normal. Except, hold on. It isn’t that simple. Sure, the immediate vaccine supply issues will soon be fixed. The trouble is, the catastrophe will still do lasting damage to the EU even after it has all the vaccines it could possibly use. Why? Because it undermines its legitimacy – in three ways.

Technocrats have to be genuinely technically competent, otherwise what’s the point?

First, the EU is by its very design a technocratic elite, without much in the way of democracy. Of course, that’s fine if you like that sort of thing. In the political theory seminars there have always been respectable arguments for letting the experts run everything without all the messy business of elections. There is a catch, however. The technocrats have to be genuinely technically competent, otherwise what’s the point? The vaccine disaster suggests the EU’s technocrats are third division, and even that is probably generous.

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