“A camel is a horse designed by committee.”
Sir Alec Issigonis
The extraordinary spectacle of EU dysfunctionality over the critical COVID-19 vaccination process, which culminated in the spat over the Northern Irish border, demonstrates why the European Union must urgently move to integrated political control if it is to survive.
It is hard to think of any nation or federated set of nations which are run by a bureaucratic committee other than the EU: whether legitimised by democracy, or installed by a one party system, or self-appointed as a dictatorship, all feature a single point of control - except the European Union.
So in this commentary we return to our call for an EU-wide referendum for electing their president so that, as and when decisive action is required, proper leadership with accountability to the people will be available to deliver it.
I had thought that it would be the Euro, and economic dysfunctionality, which would bring down the European Union: and that may well still be the case. Until the pandemic, it was hard to imagine any other issue being so serious as to shake the foundations of the EU infrastructure.
But now we see how extraordinarily ineffective its regulatory and committee-based bureaucracy is in dealing with another massive emergency.
The EU Commission shouldered responsibility for vaccine ordering and distribution following concerns that individual countries were tripping over each other in ordering PPE. The process has taken months longer than here in the United Kingdom: both to place orders for the vaccine supply, and to authorise its use within EU countries. As a result, there are serious problems developing across member countries and even calls for Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to resign.
But in truth she is little more than a committee chairperson, and can take no political responsibility for the chaos. It is the whole undemocratic structure of the European Union which is at fault - it will only work if it has ‘ever closer union’, and that means a directly-elected EU president who can be held accountable by the people. The current incoherent mixture of national leaders and a Commission president, 'elected' by a parliament with the powers of a rubber stamp, has been found seriously wanting.
Our commentary of 5 November 2018 made the case for a directly-elected president on the basis of a coherent single currency area needing a single point of political control: now the case is made for us, on a matter of life and death.
During the Brexit negotiations, the European Union seemed to embrace Leo Varadkar's desire to use our exit as an opportunity to pull Northern Ireland out of our Union. He will now see - as has the current Taoiseach Micheál Martin - that EU commitment to the Irish cause was a simply a matter of negotiating convenience, since the Commission regulators lost no time (less than a month) in proposing re-installation of the border with Northern Ireland.
But it's a salutary lesson to all EU citizens - that EU bureaucratic oversight is insensitive to the interests of local populations. When the chips are down, they didn't even bother to consult with local head of government Micheál Martin.
So where do we go from here? It's tempting to say good riddance, and focus on our own recovery from the pandemic and its economic challenge. But our friends in Europe are also our trading partners and that’s a major problem if the EU remains stuck in the doldrums when we're ready to get moving again, with over 40% of our trade going across the Channel.
I will leave it to those better qualified to comment on our capacity to help with EU vaccination without affecting our own distribution: but it might be worth using this experience to encourage our European friends to get on with their ‘ever closer union’, now that we’re out of the way.
We should point out that government by committee has failed spectacularly, yet again - and that economic recovery will be similarly stalled, if they don't put a democratically elected head honcho in place to run the European Union.
Gavin Oldham OBE