The EU vaccine strategy was supposed to be a forceful show of European solidarity, an assertion of the single market’s buying power and a moral stand against Trumpian “vaccine nationalism” resulted in a rollout that has left the EU lagging behind the United Kingdom and the United States. Here are some of the reasons:

  1. Timing: The EU placed its purchase order at the end of November, while the U.S. made its purchase three months earlier. The slow-moving EU bureaucracy, while a factor, does not tell the whole story. The other reason has to do with Europe’s apparent disgust at the idea that the pharmaceutical companies might be making money—“profit” being a dirty word in certain European circles—out of the COVID-19 vaccines. The European Commission lost precious months in deciding whether to buy the vaccines and how much it was ethical to pay for them
  2. Bureaucratic centralization: Europe decided that the European Commission would purchase the vaccines for all 27 EU countries. The idea was to avoid the social and political tensions that would stem from predictable differences in the speed and efficiency with which various countries would handle vaccine acquisitions. The second problem stemmed from the idea that the European Commission would have stronger bargaining power than individual countries with the pharmaceutical companies.
  3. Lack of procurement experience: The European Commission had little experience managing large-scale procurement, certainly not at speed in a shifting landscape. Officials in Brussels moved with excessive caution, haggling over prices and contracts. The commission’s legal service  had no real experience in negotiating massive public-sector procurement projects.  
  4. Penny pinching: The European Commission’s objective from the beginning was to pay as little money as possible for the vaccines. The Commission  endlessly fears being fingered for misspending its budget. The culture in Brussels is one of being able to prove to internal auditors that one has ticked the right boxes. In the end, the European Commission was able to save a little money in the price of the vaccines it purchased—a tiny amount as a percentage of its seven-year budget. But the economic and human costs of its slow-footed haggling far exceed what was saved.
  5. Regulation: Regulation was also an issue. The European Medicines Agency (EMA) kept to slower procedures. These were painted as a way to limit public concerns about a rush job.
  6. Divisions within Europe did not help. Some countries complained that doses were not distributed fairly.

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