The Brief powered by NGVA Europe – Whatever it takes

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter. [EPA-EFE/DANIEL IRUNGU]

Wealthy countries and pharmaceutical giants have a “moral obligation” to ensure that COVID-19 vaccines are available to all. So says a group of more than 150 religious leaders, including the Dalai Lama, who are demanding commitments from the EU and others at next month’s G7 summit.

It’s hard to disagree, but morality and politics are not natural bedfellows. The world’s wealthy won’t be shamed into sharing their vaccine supplies. Developing countries need to be more aggressive in asserting their interests, and Kenya’s approach to the UK offers a useful model.

Earlier this month, Kenya, along with India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, was added to the UK’s ‘red list’, which forces travellers from those countries to quarantine in a government-designated hotel for ten days, at a cost of over €2,000.

Most other countries, including all of Kenya’s neighbours in east Africa, had quietly accepted being put on the ‘red list’ several months ago.

Uhuru Kenyatta’s government in Nairobi reacted furiously, banning all flights from the UK into Kenya in retaliation and accusing the UK of practising ‘vaccine apartheid’ by not sharing its supply of COVID vaccines.

Provocative language, and a bold move, since tourism is one of Kenya’s most lucrative industries and would be badly damaged by a travel ban. But the charge is fair, and it worked.

Stung, the UK foreign office quickly moved to set up a joint committee with the Kenyan government with a view to scrapping the travel restrictions.

If nothing else, the episode is proof that assertive diplomacy works. With European and other wealthy countries likely to ease restrictions and allow international travel in the coming weeks and months, the threat of travel bans on would-be tourists is a potent one.

The truth is that on vaccines, the UK, the EU, and the United States have talked a good game about sharing supplies but delivered very little. The US has been accused of stockpiling vaccine supplies, while the UK and the EU have both been guilty of practising vaccine nationalism in recent months.

Less than 1% of the population of sub-Saharan Africa was vaccinated by mid-April. Much of that is courtesy of the UN-backed Covax initiative, which has so far delivered 18 million vaccine doses to 41 African countries. Still, it is a drop in the bucket.

Aside from the optics of the world’s wealthy getting vaccinated, there is economic self-interest in ensuring that all are immunised quickly.

Allowing the divide in vaccine access between the rich and poor to yawn even wider will have long-term economic costs, much of which will, eventually, be paid for by the IMF, World Bank and donor countries in Europe and elsewhere.

The EU says it wants to have a privileged ‘partnership’ with Africa. Sharing vaccine supplies in the coming months would be the most effective way of delivering on that promise. In the meantime, while the wealthy dither and delay, developing countries should do whatever it takes to force them into action.

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The Roundup

The Visegrad countries – Czechia, Poland, Slovakia and Hungary – approved an official statement on Monday (26 April) condemning the recently revealed Russian military covert operation in Czechia, namely a blast of ammunition depot in 2014.

French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire and German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz unveiled their national recovery and resilience plans at a joint press conference Tuesday, ahead of the indicative 30 April deadline set by the European Commission.

The managing director of the World Trade Organisation, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, said she wants to discuss China’s industrial subsidies but also state aid given to farmers, such as Europe’s Common Agricultural Policy, as part of efforts to improve the multilateral trading system.

President Vladimir Putin on Monday (26 April) dismissed as “absurd” Prague’s accusations against Moscow after Czech authorities accused the Russian secret services of being behind a deadly arms depot blast in 2014. But the investigative website Bellingcat connected the dots back to Russia.

The United States voiced full support and pledged to help the Western Balkan countries’ efforts to join the European Union on Monday (27 April), after an unofficial diplomatic note suggesting border changes in the region raised fears of renewed ethnic tensions in the south-eastern corner of Europe.

Serbian President Alexandar Vučić has deflected criticism from the EU on the worsening situation for rule of law and media freedom in his country, with the help of docile media which preferred to focus on an uneventful infrastructure project. EURACTIV takes a closer look.

Look out for…

  • European Parliament plenary session, with debate on digital green certificates;
  • The European Citizens’ Initiative: Germany in focus

Views are the author’s

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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