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Europe can only beat coronavirus together

Barbara Wesel Kommentarbild App *PROVISORISCH*
Barbara Wesel
December 6, 2020

With the UK set to begin its mass COVID-19 immunization, British politicians have hailed the early vaccine approval as a Brexit success. But Barbara Wesel thinks they're telling blatant lies to claim undeserved credit.

Biontech Covid-19 vaccine
Image: NurPhoto/picture alliance

Some things uttered by politicians are so stupid they leave you speechless. When the UK's Health Minister Matt Hancock blithely declared that Brexit would allow British authorities to approve the new BioNTech-Pfizer coronavirus vaccine earlier than the "slow" EU could, his colleague Jacob Rees-Moog chimed in to report that London had changed the rules to avoid the delays of EU approval. It is always entertaining to watch people talk about issues they know nothing of, even making things up as they blather on — that's generally what you would call fake news.

Germany's health minister Jens Spahn reacted to the nonsensical claims diplomatically, explaining that the EU law in question had a built-in exception clause allowing member states to do just that — issue their own approvals. Germany, too, could have taken that approach, said Spahn. Instead, it chose to stick with EU partners and wait for bloc-wide approval.

Barbara Wesel Studio Brussels
Barbara Wesel reports from DW's Brussels studioImage: DW/G. Matthes

Diplomatic difficulties

But the British government seems awkwardly obsessed with the possibility of boasting about some sort of coronavirus vaccine success. For those unaware of what is actually going on: German scientists (of Turkish background) working at a German firm in cooperation with the US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer developed the vaccine using a pioneering approach. Their research was financed from a number of sources, including the EU — and the UK had absolutely nothing to do with any of it.

The whole incident seems quite childish and is perhaps best ignored. Still, it touched a nerve. A veteran European politician rightly queried whether this is what cooperation with the UK would look like post-Brexit.

Germany's ambassador in London, Andreas Michaelis, even took pains to formulate his thoughts on the matter in the most diplomatic of terms, asking why it was so difficult to acknowledge this great step forward as an international success story. Michaelis went on to write that he did not believe the vaccine had anything to do with any one nation — well stated, Mr. Ambassador.

Matt Hancock Coronavirus
UK Health Minister Matt Hancock incorrectly put vaccine approval down to BrexitImage: Reuters/Handout

Brexit is bad for your character

Sadly, we know why the British act as they do these days. They of all people: Those who formerly prided themselves on the principle of fair play. Clearly, Brexit is bad for your character.

Proponents thereof began shamelessly lying to citizens four years ago, in the run-up to the referendum. And now they are doomed to continue doing so. The desire to leave the EU seems to have now given way to a new neurosis, one in which Brexiteers crown themselves with others' laurels and constantly pound their chests in an attempt to sell the UK as a "global leader" — no matter the topic.

This type of propaganda tends to be rather embarrassing but seeking to instrumentalize the coronavirus pandemic is simply beyond the pale. For, dear British friends, the virus treats everyone the same — on both sides of the English Channel. We suffer and die from COVID-19 whether we are EU citizens or not. Our doctors are all fighting the same fight, our nurses are all just as exhausted. The Stone Age nationalism born of Brexit has nothing to do with any of that.   

This much we have understood: The only way we will get through this awful situation is together — by lifting one another, sharing resources and fighting side by side. The EU itself needed a while to come to that realization. Meanwhile, a broad coalition of reasonable voices across the bloc has understood that we can only survive the pandemic and master the economic difficulties thereafter if we work in unison. In the end, it really doesn't matter if a few thousand Brits are vaccinated a couple of weeks before Belgian or French citizens — more than anything, it is embarrassing that British politicians think it does.

This article has been translated from German by Jon Shelton.