PARIS – If there is an advantage to the coronavirus pandemic, the leader of the new French movement Génération Frexit – which wants France to follow the example of the United Kingdom by leaving the European Union – believes that it is is a clumsy response from Europe.
“I think the rollout of vaccination is the best publicity for Brexit – but it is also very good publicity for Frexit, and for all the other countries that want to take back their freedom and independence,” Charles-Henri said. Gallois, chairman of the group. .
At the moment, and despite widespread European protests over the slow deployment of vaccines in the region, let alone the strict COVID measures, there is no seismic change in this direction. Polls show that while many European voters blame Brussels for their lack of gunfire, most still support the EU. Even the traditional pro “sortie” parties, like the far-right National Rally in France, have toned down or changed their rhetoric.
Analysts warn that this could change, however.
“Euroscepticism in its harshest form is out of fashion”, The Economist wrote this week, but warned he could quickly come back in force.
“If EU citizens find themselves still confined to their homes while Americans and Israelis hit the beach,” he added, “the group of European Eurosceptics could be restless again.
Other observers agree that the EU’s executive arm, tasked by member states last year with procuring vaccines for the block, faces increasing pressure to deliver.
“Many citizens look at what is happening in Brussels and say: ‘I want to be vaccinated, but I cannot,’ said French far-right specialist Jean-Yves Camus. “There is a risk that part of the population will turn against the EU and say ‘what’s going on?'”
Bottom of the pack
Few would dispute that the deployment of vaccines in Europe has been disappointing. More than half of Israelis and nearly a fifth of Americans have received at least one vaccine against the coronavirus, according to Our World in Data, compared to less than 7% of French and Germans.
While national campaigns and manufacturer delays are also to blame for the slow pace of vaccination, polls suggest that a significant part of European anger is nonetheless directed at Brussels. A recent Kekst CNC poll, for example, found that between a quarter and half of French, Swedish and German citizens blame the EU rather than their own governments for the problems.
Some EU leaders join them and break with the unity of the bloc in the rush for additional supplies. Austrian Chancellor Sebastien Kurz – whose government recently agreed to a vaccine development deal with Israel – complained of a vaccine “mess”, with some EU countries getting more than others.
More infuriating, for some here, are the statistics from Britain, a former EU member, which has delivered at least one injection to more than a third of its citizens. As the surge in COVID-19 cases brings Paris hospitals close to capacity, for example, admissions in Britain have plummeted.
“Obviously this is a blow to those who have long said that Britain was going to do much worse outside the European Union,” said Camino Mortera-Martinez, analyst at the Center for European Reform based in Brussels. policy institute.
Referring to EU member states, she added: “It’s not that they were actively trying to downplay the success of vaccination in the UK, but they were very aware – in France and Germany in particular. – not to do anything that would fuel the idea that ‘Brexit is a Success.’ “
For the Welshman of Generation Frexit, this is exactly the lesson.
“I think vaccination is the European Union’s most obvious failure during the COVID-19 crisis,” he said.
The EU’s executive arm has admitted errors in its vaccination strategy.
“We were slow to authorize,” said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.
“We were too optimistic about mass production and perhaps too confident that what we ordered would actually be delivered on time.”
There is also another side to the story of numbers. Several EU countries, including France, are ahead of Britain in the percentage of citizens fully vaccinated with two vaccines, and none have yet matched Britain’s skyrocketing coronavirus death toll. -Brittany.
Brussels advocates say the problems of negotiating vaccines for the first time in 27 countries were understandable.
“Of course, Germany or France acting alone like the UK was able to get enough vaccines to meet their needs, but certainly not under such favorable conditions,” wrote Jean Quatremer, Brussels correspondent on the left. French. Release newspaper in an opinion piece The Guardian newspaper. “Most important of all, small countries would have been left behind.”
This has not stopped harsh criticism from populist parties, as well as member states such as Hungary, which have mingled with the EU on other issues.
Jordan Bardella, vice-president of the Rassemblement national de France – the country’s main opposition party – says his country is experiencing a “Waterloo vaccine” moment, referring to Napoleon’s historic defeat against the British.
“We see that the European Union has failed, and above all France is the only member of the UN Security Council not to have its own vaccines,” Bardella said on France 2 television. “This poses a real problem. problem of medical sovereignty. ”
No Frexit for now
Yet the Rally has turned around when it comes to its once-convinced pro-Frexit stance. Party leader Marine Le Pen – considered President Emmanuel Macron’s main rival in next year’s elections – no longer speaks of leaving the bloc but rather of “reforming it in depth”.
In neighboring Italy, populist leader Matteo Salvini recently remained silent on an “Italexit”, pledging instead to support, for now, the new Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi. While Draghi also criticized the sluggishness of Brussels’ vaccination campaign, he worked within his rules to recently block exports of doses of AstraZeneca to Australia.
In the Netherlands, where a coronavirus curfew has sparked riots, pro-exit Freedom Party leader Geert Wilders has called the country’s slow rollout of vaccination “outrageous.” Yet polls show Prime Minister Mark Rutte still comfortably leads the lead ahead of the March 17 elections. Wilders echoed analysts in concluding that despite public grunts, the pandemic catalyzed a moment of “rally around the flag” supporting Rutte’s pro-EU government.
“If we had a referendum, I would lose it,” Wilders told Agence France-Presse of the prospects for a Dutch “Nexit”, “but I still think unfortunately that is the only way.”
Welshman of the Frexit generation also has a long-term vision. He predicts that voters’ feelings will change as French citizens see the rapid deployment of the British vaccine translate into an equally rapid post-coronavirus recovery – although the first signs point to a collapse in trade with the EU that is hitting hard l British economy.
“They will see that it is more efficient, more flexible to be outside the EU,” said Gallois.