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EU ‘under pressure’ as Covid pandemic brings internal post-Brexit fractures ‘to bear’

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Chairman of the European Research Group Mark Francois spoke to about how the European Union will fare after the coronavirus pandemic. He explained many of the internal “fractures” have now been thrust into the spotlight as disagreements over vaccine procurement, travel and internal politicking have shown the bloc to be much more divided than they may make out. He added many supporters of the European Union “project” have a “religious” attachment to the organisation – stating the UK’s decision to leave it was akin to “heresy”.

Speaking to, Mr Francois was asked how the European Union will come out of the pandemic as members have disagreed and undermined each other throughout. 

He explained: “Well, I think there are internal tensions within the European Union and in some ways, the pandemic has brought these to bear.

“You’ve already mentioned a number of other nations, as it were, going their own way rather than using the collective EU vaccination that the Prime Minister and Keir Starmer famously had a bust-up about at PMQs.

“I mean the German Constitutional Court rejected the authority of the European Court of Justice in one economic area – I mean that’s virtually unheard of.”

Mr Francois referred to the disagreement between German and EU courts over the European Central Bank’s (ECB) bond-buying scheme in June with the German courts stating the ECB overstepped its mandate. 

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The EU says the more powerful European Court of Justice overrules national courts and greenlit the scheme. 

Mr Francois continued: “So I think the EU is under pressure and in terms of arguments about the Northern Ireland Protocol, or about Gibraltar, or Jersey, you have to see this in an overall context which is this.

“For many people on the continent, within the European Union, especially in the European Commission, the idea of federal superstate – what they often refer to as the ‘project’ – is almost akin to a religion.

“It’s a bit like an article of faith and that transcends everything.

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“What did we do, well we committed an act of heresy, we walked away from the true faith in the view of these people and therefore, particularly at the Commission, believe we must be punished.”

Mr Francois added the EU would seek to punish the UK to prevent other nations from following in its footsteps,

During the pandemic, EU members and other European countries have been at odds with each other over tackling COVID-19. 

Members disagreed on the efficacy and safety of the AstraZeneca vaccine which saw many pause its rollout over fears of blood clots. 

Despite the European Medicines Agency (EMA) ruling it was “safe and effective” to use, countries still limited its use in the young – including the UK. 

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French President Emmanuel Macron also threw doubt on the vaccine saying it was “quasi-ineffective” in the over-65 demographic. 

Hungary was also forced to secure vaccine agreements with pharmaceutical companies directly after there was a huge delay in the EU vaccine procurement programme. 

Similarly, Serbia, which is seeking to join the EU, turned their back on the bloc due to their slow vaccine procurement and set up contracts to import Russia’s Sputnik V and China’s Sinopharm vaccines. 

At the beginning of the year, EU members were split when plans were presented to block vaccine exports to third countries, like the UK, over supply issues. 

It led to Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol to be temporarily enacted which would have put a hard border across Ireland to prevent vaccines entering the UK “through the back door”. 

But as international travel began to restart, Germany, supported by France, suggested the UK should be banned from travelling to EU nations because of the high rate of the Delta variant there. 

Countries reliant on British tourism, like Greece and Spain, were strongly against the idea with Chancellor Angela Merkel eventually bowing down and allowing quarantine-free travel to go ahead for double-jabbed UK travellers entering Germany.

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