Sputnik: The EU is currently at the beginning of a vaccination campaign aimed at stopping the spread of COVID-19. You are a member of the European Parliament, so you’re probably well-informed about statistics in the EU in general, as well as in your home country, Belgium, in particular. Do you think that the campaign is going well?
Tom Vandendriessche: No, I don’t think that the campaign is going well, and, as you probably saw, I’ve written an article about it. There are two subjects on the matter: one is of strategic importance, which is how many vaccines do you have available, because there is competition in the global market. So, this is a strategic question. And this is what the European Union was responsible for.
The second question is on an operational level. That means, if you get the vaccines, how fast do you distribute them? This is the responsibility of the nation states. Now, we see Belgium, for example, that on the strategic level we are completely dependent on the European Union, we do not have enough vaccines, and we should have more to speed up the vaccine programme.
Belgium is lagging behind many countries when it comes to COVID vaccinations, with many politicians slamming the government for the slow rollout. (data and graph from "Our World in Data" website) pic.twitter.com/TCKoD2DFn1— Denis Bolotsky (@BolotskySputnik) January 20, 2021
And on the second level – the operational or tactical level, what the Belgian government is doing is really horrendous, because we can compare it, it’s transparent: everybody is looking at the same amount of vaccines, and the same amount of vaccinations that we have been effectuated. We can compare with all the other countries, so Belgium is really the worst. And we are the world champion in COVID deaths per capita. So, I don’t know if you read Belgian or Flemish newspapers, or media outlets, but they are constantly putting the Trump administration down for their response to the COVID crisis, but I think they should look at our own country and how things are going around here. And we should do better.
Sputnik: There was no concrete vaccination plan in Belgium until early January. Do you think that the current government will be able to “catch up” on this programme, or is there no hope that it’s going to happen?
Tom Vandendriessche: No, we don’t hope any hope in Belgium, because it’s not going the way it should run. We have vaccines available, but they are in refrigerators. Because, as you said, there was no vaccine plan. So, they basically had nine months to prepare a vaccination programme, which everybody knew was coming – we just didn’t know when. And why is this so complicated, and Belgium is failing at this? Because Belgium is a state which fails on everything, because it’s so complicated, because we have different levels of government and everyone has to agree on the same thing, on the same topic.
So, in political terms, there is no subsidiarity. We do not have enough political freedom of action as, for example, my Flemish government, which is responsible within the Belgian framework, and so on. So, if you look at Belgium, it’s like the European Union in a smaller version, with exactly the same problems. And this is the point that I was making in my opinion piece: I believe that Europe is too diverse, as Belgium is too diverse, to address on a centralised uniform matter, very important topics in our society. And if you centralise, and you want to create some kind of uniform policy – it just doesn’t add up. Why? Because you need to make compromises with everybody, and people have different contexts where they operate.
For example, in France there is a lot of fear among the public about vaccination programmes. In other countries, it isn’t like that. But, nevertheless, if you buy vaccines for all of these countries, it will go at the same speed, but it should be at different speeds. And I think that adding up the national dynamics of every European country on its own creates a far larger force of European governance to address crises.
Sputnik: You mentioned that there are various approaches to vaccination in different countries. We can assume that besides national interests and political issues at play, there’s also attempts at lobbying by Big Pharma, which becomes evident as they each compete for their share of the market. Knowing that the coronavirus is deadly and any delays in vaccine rollout caused by disagreements could actually kill people, do you think there should be less competition and more of a humane approach, more cooperation, between all these powerful players?
Tom Vandendriessche: I understand the market dynamics. I understand that it’s a basic law of supply and demand. Everybody wants it; this is what free market competition is all about: get it.
We have the infrastructure, we have the money, and we have skilled personnel to give the vaccines to the people. Why do other countries, such as Israel – a small country with nine million inhabitants, or the UK, who just left the European Union – and this is proof of why the national dynamic is so much stronger than the centralised dynamic in the European Union – they had the freedom of action to buy it, to make their own strategy about it.
A lot of criticism arises because of EU-centric nature of Belgium, the inability of the govt to make independent choices, even in life-or-death situations, such as COVID pandemic. Flemish Interest has been critical of such issues, and of delayed vaccination in particular.— Denis Bolotsky (@BolotskySputnik) January 20, 2021
So, for example, Israel said:
This is going to be a race, and we’re going to maximise. So, they doubled the amount in the free market for the vaccine. But this is a choice one can make; this is the choice they made. So, you have other risks – health, security, and so on, but this is risk assessment, and a strategy that you make in a democracy. And I believe that by mobilising all the strengths of a society, we could have gone much faster, and we will see the result within two or three months, when other countries have vaccinated 60 or 70 percent of their population – for example, Israel, and I believe that the UK is also ahead of us, and also the United States, many other countries – Bahrain, the UAE, and so on. So there are examples why we are failing. How do we pay for the strategic choice? With deaths and the economic wellbeing of our people. This is the price we are going to pay as a society, by being completely dependent on the European Union to buy the vaccines.
And we must realise what the consequences are, and we must learn from this. We must return to the European Union of cooperation between sovereign nation states. And, I agree, that on certain topics we must work together within European Union. But not in the way we are doing in a centralised manner, because this just doesn’t work.
The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.