In a dramatic move earlier this week, Ursula von der Leyen, the President of the European Commission, threatened to join forces with the French and German governments to hold hostage more than 19 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine due to be shipped to the UK. In response, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace warned that “the world is watching” as leaders in the bloc prepare for a crunch summit on Thursday where they will decide whether to press ahead with the ‘Europe First” plan. Mr Wallace also said it would be “counterproductive” for the EU to impose a ban as “the one thing we know about vaccine production and manufacturing is that it is collaborative”.
An EU official quickly doubled down on the threat, but nevertheless, the move sparked outrage across the bloc and in the UK.
Britons and Europeans alike took to Twitter in urgent calls on Ms von der Leyen to resign.
One person wrote: “But did Von Der Leyen understand that she has to step down? Normally a head has to fall.”
And another: “Vindictive, vicious, spiteful – not a good look. It’s pitiful to see someone so hopelessly out of their depth flailing around. For the sake of the EU, von der Leyen please resign so my German, Spanish, Italian and French friends can get a jab and not die.”
It is not the first time Ms von der Leyen has faced intense criticism over the EU’s vaccination strategy this year.
After trying to enforce a hard border on the island of Ireland, veteran journalist Andrew Neil fired: “Not sure people should be surprised that the EU, under Ursula von der Leyen, is in a shambles over vaccines.
“When she stood down as German defence minister, she left Germany’s armed forces in a shambles.”
Prior to her current position, Ms von der Leyen served in the Cabinet of Germany from 2005 to 2019, holding successive positions in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Cabinet.
During her time as minister of defence, many of the policies Ms von der Leyen pushed were ironically ignored by Brussels.
The German politician gave an interview to the Süddeutsche Zeitung in 2014, where she came out in favour of developing “a European armed drone” system.
She said: “Europe needs the capabilities of a reconnaissance drone so it is not permanently dependent on others.”
Ms von der Leyen indicated that it was time to search for partners in the project, which would have taken at least a decade.
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The document “recommends developing a European capability to counter unmanned aerial systems (UAS) to improve force protection, as well as contributing to establish a European standard for Anti Access/Area Denial (A2/AD)”.
The analysis “concludes that European capability approaches towards A2/AD are clearly at a crossroads, whereby the capability is either developed in a collaborative manner or the capability will not be developed for European forces”.
Recent combat operations in the Middle East, Ukraine and Nagorno-Karabakh have shown an advantage for forces employing sophisticated aerial drones.
In those conflicts, drones were used to spy on enemy formations and destroy tanks and vehicles with such precision that defence analysts have called them game changers in modern warfare.
However, some of the review’s findings indicate a diagnosis of the status quo that has plagued the bloc for years.
It read: “The review also finds that the European defence landscape is characterised by high levels of fragmentation and low investment in cooperation.”