Driving in troubled times can make or break you. The von der Leyen committee is on track for its squat. After several disasters exploded in the Commission’s face last week, Foreign Commissioner Borrell willingly humiliated himself in Moscow. They both have to be in a hurry this week in the European Hemisphere.
Last week it became apparent that Commission Chair von der Leyen was concerned about the extremely slow vaccination campaign within the European Union. Narrowing negotiations and lessening production difficulties have already made people in the UK, US and Israel more advanced in terms of vaccination coverage. The attempt to decisively had to be withdrawn by imposing a controversial ban on the export of vaccines. Von der Leyen then threw Economic Commissioner Valdes Dombrowskis under the bus, in an attempt to save her political skin.
Disastrous visit to Russia
To make matters worse, Josep Borrell, the de facto commissioner for foreign affairs, wore his shirt by his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov. Without any mandate from member states, Borrell went to Moscow to demand the release of opposition leader Navalny. Once there, the senior diplomat fell into a carefully designed trap Lavrov, aided by Russian journalists.
Inexperienced and lacking knowledge of the file, Borrell allowed the Russian foreign minister to speak with him under the table. In addition, he was inclined to mock the United States, which remained the main European ally until further notice. Then he shyly laughed when describing Lavrov as “an untrustworthy partner” without any opposition. The latter completed the humiliation by promptly expelling three European diplomats during the visit, but Borrell still didn’t think it necessary to interrupt the visit.
The passage of the Spanish politician in Russia caused so much damage to the reputation of the European Union that a group of 80 members of the European Parliament called for his resignation yesterday in an open letter.
Under fire in Parliament
Borrell himself was allowed to explain this yesterday during the plenary session of Parliament, as he faced severe criticism.
“Your disastrous visit hurt the European Union,” said Hilda Futtmans of Open VLD. “We have never looked weak and stunned about our approach to Russia.”
According to Dutch Member of Parliament, MEP Sophie in “t Veld”, Borrell has “a serious credibility problem”.
When Borel entered the rostrum, he spoke more harshly of the Kremlin. He said that “the Russian government is moving in a disturbing authoritarian path” and that the state “is trying to divide us.” Then he assured members of the European Parliament that he would present a list of Russian names to punish them for Navalny’s prisoner of member states next week.
He promised lawmakers, “I will submit concrete proposals.” He added that he had “no illusions” about his visit. It was supposed to be a mitigating circumstance, but it may have raised more eyebrows.
Through her spokesperson, von der Leyen expressed her support. After the backlash she suffered when she scapegoated Dombrovskis last week, there was nothing else she could do. However, the Chairperson is currently not in the ideal position to protect Borrell.
She herself is under fire for the European Union’s accumulation of the immunity race. The average vaccination coverage in the European Union is currently four times lower than in the United Kingdom and the United States. The von der Leyen committee has insisted that the purchase of vaccines should be made by the European Union. Under the pretext that it will increase the power of the bloc and its solidarity. Moreover, the risk of vaccine competition among Member States had to be avoided at all costs. Of course there is a lot to be said about this, but after a month and a half from the start of the vaccination campaign, the results are looking bad.
When von der Leyen tried to provide furniture last week by restricting vaccine exports to Northern Ireland, she had to take her steps back a few hours later. The open border between the European Union and Northern Ireland has been one of the most sensitive and toughest points of the Brexit deal. In doing so, the committee succeeded in uniting the United Kingdom and Ireland, a member state of the European Union, against themselves.
Today you can suffer from the wrath of the European Parliament. Although her dismissal has yet to be publicly requested, the damage to her committee’s reputation cannot be repaired. It will be vitally important for Von der Leyen to prove at the upcoming European summit in late February that she is the right leader to guide Europe through these turbulent times.