EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen today compared vaccine nationalism to the Cold War space race.
The under-fire Brussels chief said this ‘old confrontational mindset’ akin to US-Soviet tensions was not helping global efforts to beat coronavirus.
She told students at Warwick University: ‘Some countries see the quest for a vaccine as a race amongst global powers, like the space race in the 1960s.’
Her remarks came a week after the bloc tried to implement strict export controls in a bid to stop doses reaching the UK, before backtracking amid uproar.
Vaccine rollouts on the Continent have been comparatively sluggish and Brussels has demanded British shots are diverted to the top up EU shortfalls.
The EU has even turned to Moscow for help and is leaning on the European regulator to approve the Russian Sputnik V jab.
EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen today compared countries’ vaccine nationalism to the Cold War space race
Speaking to the student-led Warwick Economics Summit via video-link, she said: ‘When I was your age, the world was still divided in two blocs.
‘The superpowers were fighting to expand or maintain their sphere of influence. Well, this world is long gone.
‘And yet, the old confrontational mindset has arrived. Think for instance about Covid-19 vaccines. Some countries see the quest for a vaccine as a race amongst global powers, like the space race in the 1960s.
‘This is an illusion. The only race is against the virus, and the virus is spreading faster than ever before.’
Ms von der Leyen added: ‘This is not a competition between Europeans, Russians, Chinese and Americans; this is too serious.’
More than 11million people in the UK have now received their first dose of the coronavirus vaccine – about 16 per cent of the population. The average for the EU is dramatically lower at 3.5 per cent.
Brussels has rowed with AstraZeneca for not supplying the bloc with enough doses of its Oxford jab.
Britain opted out of Brussels’ vaccine-buying scheme and signed a contract with the big pharma firm three months before the EU – and so has secured a steady supply.
The Brussels chief said this ‘old confrontational mindset’ was hindering global efforts to beat coronavirus
In a sign of the dire situation. the EU’s foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell yesterday held a joint press conference with Russia’s foreign mininster, Sergey Lavrov.
Mr Borrell congratulated Russia for its Sputnik V Covid-19 vaccine, before pushing the independent European Medicines Agency to authorise the jab so that EU citizens can use it.
Ms von der Leyen, who took the helm in Brussels only last year, has already come under fire in European capitals for the bungled rollout.
This week a senior German minister even broke cover to brand her leadership during the vaccine drive as ‘really s***’.
A student at the London School of Economics in the 1970s, the Brussels supremo said Brexit was a ‘painful page’ in the UK’s history with the bloc.
But she reserved her biggest swipes for China, who she said were the EU’s ‘systemic rivals’.
Ms von der Leyen told the Warwick Economics Summit: ‘Our offer to engage on the global scene is not only addressed to our oldest friends.
‘How could we tackle the greatest issues of our time, from coronavirus to climate, if we don’t engage with China?
‘And let me be very clear, although China and the European Union are cooperating when it comes to fighting climate change, although we are competing in the economic field, we are systemic rivals.
‘When it comes to society, individual rights and the role of governments, Europe will continue to call out human rights abuses, to push for change. We believe that every human being is entitled to the same fundamental rights. The people of Hong Kong asking for democracy, the Uighurs, Europe will always speak up for them.’