The EU’s troubled leadership: You get what you pay for

Recent gaffes by Ursula von der Leyen and Josep Borrell, over COVID-19 vaccination roll-out and Russia policy respectively, have irritated member-states. But governments are ultimately responsible for the EU’s leadership woes, and they need to make the effort to fix them.

The EU’s top leadership has got off to a bad start in 2021. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen carries only a small share of responsibility for EU member-states’ slow progress in vaccinating their populations against COVID-19, but her attempts to blame others have not gone down well. Moreover, the Commission’s panicked attempt to close Ireland’s border with Northern Ireland to prevent the export of vaccines to the UK has reignited tensions with Britain over the Northern Ireland Protocol of the UK’s Withdrawal Agreement. Meanwhile, the politically risky visit to Moscow by EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (HRVP) Josep Borrell was widely described as humiliating: the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, accused EU leaders of lying about the poisoning of Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny and described the EU as an unreliable partner – while Borrell stood silently next to him at a press conference. The Russians underlined their contempt for Borrell by declaring three EU member-state diplomats personae non gratae while he was meeting Lavrov.

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