Behind the scenes

Will Ursula von der Leyen’s career survive the EU vaccine crisis?

European Commission president is facing second procurement scandal in as many years

Ursula von der Leyen has blamed one of her deputies for the confusion over EU vaccine export controls as the European Commission boss fights for political survival.

Amid widespread confusion after the EU last week U-turned on a threat to introduce checks on the Irish border, von der Leyen’s spokesperson told reporters that “there is one cabinet which was lead on this, that is Executive Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis because he is in charge of trade”.

The Commission boss threw her deputy “under the bus” amid “rising anger from EU capitals at her ‘go it alone’ tactics” during the bloc’s recent battle with Covid jab maker AstraZeneca over delayed deliveries, says The Telegraph.

But her bid to shift the blame has failed to win von der Leyen much sympathy. 

Jean-Claude Juncker, her predecessor as Commision president, said during a speech in Stuttgart on Sunday that he was “very much opposed” to export restrictions and that the EU’s joint vaccine procurement “went too slow”.

Jacob Funk Kirkegaard, a senior fellow of the German Marshall Fund, also piled on the criticism, telling The New York Times that the doses shortage “reflects incredibly poorly” on von der Leyen, who “took over this portfolio and made a complete mess of it”.

Pointing to her efforts to deflect blame, Kirkegaard added: “There’s no redeeming factor in the way the Commission has acted in the last couple weeks and she needs to own it. The egg is on her face, and she can’t wipe it off on the health commissioner.”

Critics have noted that von der Leyen’s spell as German defence minister also ended in a dispute over a public procurement scheme.

An investigate committee of the German parliament opened a probe in 2019 “into how lucrative contracts from her ministry were awarded to outside consultants without proper oversight”, as Politico reported at the time.

Although a cross-party report found that she was not guilty of wrongdoing, a Social Democratic Party of Germany member of the committee, Dennis Rohde, argued that von der Leyen carried “the political responsibility” for the deficiencies.

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