Irish Examiner view: Article 16 apology did not inspire confidence

How can European Commission say it got it right 'in the end'?
Irish Examiner view: Article 16 apology did not inspire confidence

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen.

The expression of regret uttered at the European Parliament by European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen over the triggering of Article 16 of the Northern Ireland protocol is mealy-mouthed in the extreme and does little to inspire confidence.

Speaking to the European Parliament, Ms von der Leyen said: “The bottom line is that mistakes were made in the process leading up to the decision and I deeply regret that. But in the end, we got it right.” 

Apart from her failure to assume any responsibility for the failings of the commission she leads, how on earth can von der Leyen talk about getting it right? 

The disastrous decision almost scuppered the protocol itself and reinvigorated the campaign waged against it by Northern Ireland’s First Minister Arlene Foster and the DUP.

The EC has also made an unholy mess of the rollout of Covid-19 vaccines throughout the EU.

Ms von der Leyen was more forthcoming in this regard, admitting:

We were late to authorise. We were too optimistic when it came to massive production.

However, once again she failed to take personal responsibility for the slow rollout, and took a sideways swipe at vaccine producers, declaring that “perhaps we were too confident that what we ordered would actually be delivered on time”. 

She also insists that negotiating as a bloc for vaccine supplies remains the right approach. 

That flies in the face of reality. Individual countries such as the UK, Israel — and even tiny Iceland — have done far better.

It is sobering to note that her speech to parliament came as the EU’s pandemic death toll passed 500,000. 

As a trained medical doctor, she must also be acutely aware of the toll the pandemic has taken on frontline hospital staff throughout the EU. 

Here at home, the latest RTÉ Investigates documentary, Covid-19 — The Third Wave, took viewers into the heart of Tallaght University Hospital where they got a glimpse of the huge challenges that Ireland’s frontline staff face. 

Those same challenges apply in hospitals throughout Europe.

In fairness to Ms von der Leyen, the commission has been more surefooted in helping to limit Covid deaths by suspending budget rules to give members free rein to borrow and spend. 

That is partly why mortality rates throughout the EU are far lower than in the UK or the US.

Nevertheless, she still needs to convince EU citizens that the commission will have the right policies and strategies in place to cope with the aftermath of Covid. 

Even when the pandemic has passed, there will be serious ongoing effects, among them chronic long-Covid ailments and the inevitable mental health toll it will continue to have on millions of people. 

Medical experts fear that post-traumatic stress disorder will be one of the major fallouts from the pandemic.

Only when the commission president assumes personal responsibility for the mistakes of the past can we be confident of her leadership in the future. 

As the quote attributed to the late Russian novelist Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn put it: “Mistakes are a great educator when one is honest enough to admit them and willing to learn from them”.

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