Goodbye EU! Austria’s warning shot to bloc before Brexit: ‘Can’t shy away now’

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Brussels has been embroiled in a major row over the handling of its coronavirus vaccine rollout scheme, with leaders taking aim at French President Emmanuel Macron over claims he made regarding the AstraZeneca jab. Mr Macron was challenged after he described the vaccine as “quasi-ineffectual” earlier this year, as it emerged his comments had been linked to some citizens being reluctant to take the jab. An official from inside the bloc said that the “point was raised by some leaders”, and that “there are in some countries some doubts and I think that the question was more to get clarification on if it was true or not and since then I think the European Commission has reacted to this”.

His comments were made when it appeared there could be supply issues in getting the vaccine into the bloc, and led European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to admit the rollout had not gone as well as planned.

At the time, envious glances were made to the UK, which had raced ahead in its vaccination project, which has now seen more than 17 million people receive a jab.

It left nations such as Hungary and the Czech Republic incensed, with both opting to purchase its own vaccines from nations such as Russia.

But years before, Austria warned that major reforms were needed if the bloc’s status was to remain.

In the weeks before the historic Brexit referendum, which saw Britain vote Leave, Christian Kern – who had just become Austria’s new Chancellor – warned that the UK quitting the bloc could signal “the slow goodbye of the European idea”, without improvements being made.

Mr Kern said that “whatever the outcome of the British referendum, afterwards Europe will not be able to shy away from a few much-needed debates”.

Austria faced a huge rise in euroscepticism at the time, led by Norbert Hofer. He led a far-right populist charge, coming agonisingly close to securing the presidency for his party the FPO.

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Addressing the need to change this perception, Mr Kern added to The Guardian in 2016: “We have to clear up some fundamental issues in Europe irrespective of whether Brexit or Remain will win.

“Even without Britain, neoliberal ideas dominate in Europe and one of the challenges for the EU will have to be not just to engage with the four fundamental freedoms [free movement of goods, capital, people and services], but also the question of how our welfare system in Europe has to be clarified.

“If we ignore that, then that’s a slow goodbye to the European idea.”

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Prior to the vote, the anti-EU rhetoric was building across the bloc, particularly in countries such as France and Sweden.

In Stockholm, one survey found that 36 percent of Swedes wanted Swexit – the country’s answer to Brexit – while in May 2016, an Ipsos Mori poll suggested that more than half of Italian and French citizens wanted to vote on their country’s membership within the EU.

In the aftermath of the vote, Jeppe Kofod, a Danish MEP and leader of the Social Democrats in the European Parliament, warned of a domino effect that could be experienced with other nations wanting to leave.

He told the MailOnline: “All over Europe people are worried about the crises we face such as migration and terrorism.

“Now that the UK has left, many are starting to think that this would be the solution for them.”

More recently, Ms von der Leyen insisted she would “take the AstraZeneca vaccine without a second thought”, as she bid to dispel fears over the jab.

Along with Mr Macron’s comments, inaccurate German reports were also published regarding the drug’s capabilities, which the Telegraph reported, only added to the anti-jab sentiment in the bloc.

But Ms von der Leyen did claim the EU was now “catching up” with the UK in terms of vaccinations, before branding the strategy implemented in Britain on the delaying of the second dose as “risky”.

She added: “We’re catching up. Britain has administered 17 million first doses.

“There are 27 million in the EU. In Italy, with a population similar to that of Great Britain, twice as many citizens received full vaccination protection with the second dose as in the UK.”

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