AstraZeneca ‘has to catch up’ says Ursula von der Leyen
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In a dramatic move earlier this week, Ursula von der Leyen 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. 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.”
Ms von der Leyen already faced calls for her resignation earlier this year, after she triggered a clause in the Brexit agreement that effectively enforced a hard border on the island of Ireland.
But none of this pressure is new as, prior to her current position, the likes of Andrew Neil claim she was a “failed defence minister” in Germany.
It is for this reason that it is believed German Chancellor Angela Merkel abstained from the decision to nominate her as EU chief.
In July 2019, the prospect of a German filling the Commission presidency for the first time in 52 years was met with outcries across the country’s political spectrum.
The former leader of the Social Democrats (SPD) Martin Schulz described Ms von der Leyen as “the government’s weakest minister”, while his SPD colleague Sigmar Gabriel, a former vice-chancellor, called her nomination “an unprecedented act of political trickery”.
The Greens bemoaned Ms von der Leyen’s nomination as an “old-school backroom deal”, the pro-business Free Democrats said she was “not the best candidate”, the far-right Alternative für Deutschland said her selection would amount to “cheating voters” and even Manfred Weber, the candidate that Mrs Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) had originally fielded for the top Commission post, lamented a “sad day for European democracy”.
German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung claimed Ms von der Leyen was an “inappropriate” choice, because her track record in the defence ministry was so poor that she “should long ago have resigned”.
It added: “She will be unable to cope with the Commission presidency.”
Because of this fallout, Germany ended up being the only of the then 28 EU member states to abstain from the vote to nominate her.
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Explaining why she had to abstain from voting, Mrs Merkel said at the time: “The social democrats decided not to agree to this.
“And that’s why I had to abstain.
“That’s the normal regulation and now of course we will continue talks, as well with the socialist faction in the European Parliament.”
Ms von der Leyen served as minister of defence in Mrs Merkel’s cabinet from 2013 to 2019.
The German army has faced a shortage of equipment for years, but the situation became so precarious in 2014 that some soldiers had to take matters into their own hands.
Bundeswehr troops tried to hide their lack of arms by replacing heavy machine guns with broomsticks during a NATO exercise.
After painting the wooden sticks black, the German soldiers attached them to the top of armoured vehicles, according to a confidential army report which was leaked to German broadcaster ARD.
A defence ministry spokesperson said the use of broomsticks was not a common practice, and that the decision of the involved soldiers was “hard to comprehend”.
According to the ministry, the armoured vehicles were also not supposed to be armed.
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It is not clear how many broomsticks were substituted for machine guns.
However, the revelation came at the worst possible moment for Ms von der Leyen.
The same day, the Ukrainian army suffered a defeat at the hands of pro-Russian rebels in the town of Debaltseve, putting a renewed focus on the question of whether Europe’s NATO allies would be able to manage the crisis militarily – without American intervention.
To make things worse, the broom-equipped German soldiers belonged to a crucial joint NATO task force and would have been the first to be deployed in case of an attack.
Opposition politicians expressed concerns about Germany’s ability to defend itself and other European allies, given that even some of the most elite forces lacked basic equipment.
The central European country was the world’s third-largest arms exporter in 2013 but, when it came to Germany’s own defence, politicians have been unwilling to invest.
It is not the only time the German army embarrassed itself.
Just a few months before she quit as defence minister in 2019, US officials found that German forces had been using mobile phones during a NATO exercise because of a lack of encrypted radio equipment.
At the same time, the Bundeswehr was forced to scrap its standard issue assault rifles when it was discovered they didn’t shoot straight in temperatures above 30°C.
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