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Europe’s Vaccine Headache Continues

Even as the bloc threatens to freeze AstraZeneca vaccine exports, large numbers of EU citizens now doubt its safety.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
An AstraZeneca vaccine vial is prepared.
An AstraZeneca vaccine vial is prepared in Bratislava, Slovakia, on March 21. Robert Barca/Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: EU-British tensions rise over vaccine exports, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan fires his central bank governor, and Israel enters the final day of campaigning before Tuesday’s election. 

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Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: EU-British tensions rise over vaccine exports, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan fires his central bank governor, and Israel enters the final day of campaigning before Tuesday’s election. 

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.

EU and U.K. Enter Vaccine Standoff

Post-Brexit tensions are likely to escalate this week as the bloc is set to freeze exports of the AstraZeneca vaccine to the United Kingdom, according to reports in Bloomberg and Reuters. The news comes as European Union member heads of state are due to meet on Thursday to discuss vaccine policy.

Reuters reports that London and Brussels are in dispute over vaccine stocks in a factory in the Netherlands, with both sides laying claim. “The Brits are insisting that the Halix plant in the Netherlands must deliver the drug substance produced there to them. That doesn’t work,” an EU official told Reuters. “What is produced in Halix has to go to the EU.”

The dispute comes as the EU vaccine rollout is progressing at a far slower rate than in the United Kingdom; 8.7 percent of people have received their first dose in the EU whereas 41.4 percent have in the United Kingdom.

Brand damage. The sluggishness is likely to continue, as residents in major European countries don’t seem to want the disputed doses. Many Europeans are increasingly skeptical of the AstraZeneca vaccine following its brief suspension last week over clotting fears. A YouGov poll, released on Sunday, found that majorities in the four largest EU member states—France, Germany, Italy, and Spain—say the vaccine is unsafe. Confidence was lowest in France, where 61 percent of respondents said the vaccine wasn’t safe. The same survey found broad support for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

Lose-lose. Any export ban is likely to hurt the U.K. vaccine program, with little benefit for the EU, according to an analysis by the Guardian. The analysis found that export restrictions would delay the United Kingdom’s drive to achieve 75 percent population coverage by two months but would hasten the European Union’s arrival at 75 percent coverage by only a week.

The World This Week

On Tuesday, March 23, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi hosts talks with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, in Guilin, China.

NATO foreign ministers gather in-person in Brussels for a biannual summit.

Israel holds a parliamentary election, its fourth in two years.

On Wednesday, March 24, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken holds bilateral talks with EU High Representative Josep Borrell in Brussels.

On Thursday, March 25, U.S. President Joe Biden holds his first formal press conference since taking office.

EU heads of state gather to review the bloc’s Russia policy, its vaccine rollout, and the creation of an EU-wide digital coronavirus passport.

On Saturday, March 27, Myanmar recognizes Armed Forces Day, the day that the Burma Independence Army revolted against Japanese occupation forces during World War II. The day is traditionally commemorated with a military parade.

What We’re Following Today

Turkey’s turmoil. U.S. President Joe Biden joined Europe to condemn Turkey over its decision to annul its ratification of an international treaty that prevents violence against women. Turkey’s exit from the treaty, known as the Istanbul Convention, brought thousands of people to Turkey’s streets in protest of the move. Turkey was one of the initial signatories and the first nation to ratify the convention. In a White House statement, Biden called the action “deeply disappointing” and a “disheartening step backward.” The Turkish presidency released a statement on Sunday saying the convention had been “hijacked by a group of people attempting to normalize homosexuality.”

Turkey’s currency was also rocked on Saturday after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan fired central bank governor Naci Agbal. The Turkish lira fell 15 percent against the U.S. dollar after the news broke. Erdogan has replaced Agbal with Sahap Kavcioglu, a banking professor and former lawmaker for Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party.

Israel’s election. Today marks the final day of campaigning ahead of Tuesday’s Israeli parliamentary elections as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hopes to be rewarded for a world-beating COVID-19 vaccine rollout. The final polls published before the vote point toward a deadlocked electorate, with the balance of power between pro-Netanyahu and anti-Netanyahu voting blocs coming down to smaller parties who have yet to declare their allegiances. Roughly 20,000 Israelis protested outside Netanyahu’s official residence on Saturday in one of the biggest demonstrations against the prime minister in months. 

Kovrig on trial in Beijing. The trial of Michael Kovrig began in a Beijing courtroom today, as diplomats from 26 countries were barred entry to proceedings on national security grounds. Kovrig is one of two Canadian men detained in 2018 by Chinese authorities shortly after the arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver on a U.S. warrant. The trial of Michael Spavor concluded on Friday after two hours, although the court’s verdict has not yet been delivered. Extradition proceedings in Meng’s case continue today in Vancouver.

Keep an Eye On

War powers. The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee holds a closed hearing today on the legal rationale behind U.S. airstrikes in Syria last month. Witnesses include representatives from the State Department, Defense Department, and intelligence community as Congress looks to rein in executive war-making powers. Writing in Foreign Policy on Friday, Sen. Tim Kaine and Rep. Barbara Lee made the case for repealing the 2002 authorization for use of military force, which is in place since the beginning of the Iraq War.

Trump’s return. Former U.S. President Donald Trump’s relative silence following years of bombast may be coming to an end. Former Trump advisor Jason Miller told Fox News that Trump would be back online in “two to three months” on his own social media platform, the details of which have yet to be announced. “This new platform is going to be big, and everyone wants him. He’s going to bring millions and millions—tens of millions of people to this new platform,” Miller said.

Odds and Ends 

As you sip your morning glass of orange juice, you might consider whether it could be used in a more energy-efficient manner. Faced with heaving orange trees and not enough citizens to eat them, the Spanish city of Seville has begun a pilot program to turn oranges into sustainable energy through a process that converts the juice into a methane-rich gas.

Orange-powered cars may be some time off, however. Early results have found it currently takes one ton of oranges to produce 50 kilowatt hours of electricity—the amount needed for an electric car to drive about 200 miles.

That’s it for today.

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Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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