Pandemic Apologies and Defiance: Europe’s Leaders Increasingly Rattled

Political Repercussions
The pandemic has claimed two political positions, as well. The coalition government in Italy headed by Giuseppe Conte collapsed last month amid a dispute about how to spend European Union recovery funds.

On Sunday, embattled Slovak Prime Minister Igor Matovič announced his resignation to end a monthlong political crisis sparked by his decision to buy the Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine to make up for a shortfall in vaccines distributed by the EU.

Matovič will switch places with current Finance Minister Eduard Heger, who will become the new prime minister of the fractious four-party coalition government.

Under public pressure to get a grip on the crisis, some leaders appear to be increasingly nervous about the possible electoral repercussions from more lockdowns, deaths and likely more months of reduced economic activity, which means more bankruptcies.

According to a pan-Europe opinion poll conducted for the International Republican Institute, a U.S.-based NGO in partnership with European parliamentary groups, Europeans, especially in the East and center of the continent, are becoming increasingly gloomy about their economic prospects. Pessimism is especially pronounced among low-income Europeans.

More than 40% of respondents from Hungary, Slovenia, Bulgaria, Italy, Romania, Poland and Spain told pollsters they feel their financial situation will get worse. With the gloom mounting, governments appear to be lashing out, according to some commentators, with efforts being made to find scapegoats for the worsening crisis.

British officials argue that the ongoing dispute between Britain and the EU over supplies to Europe of the AstraZeneca vaccine are part of an effort to shift blame. The EU claims it is not getting a fair share of doses, thanks to behind-the-scenes British shenanigans — an accusation London vehemently denies.

The British media have also lambasted European leaders for what they say are false accusations, with Macron being seen as largely behind the distraction. 

“There is now a systematic attempt by his (Macron’s) entourage to blame the unfolding debacle on the British, trying to create a sense that everything would be on track were it not for the U.K.’s refusal to hand over AstraZeneca vaccines,” said British columnist Ambrose Evans-Pritchard.

Policy U-turns are coming thick and fast — another sign of political disarray, analysts say.

Merkel on Sunday — just days after relenting on a tight Easter lockdown — blamed regional governments for failing to take the crisis seriously enough and for easing restrictions despite rapidly rising infection rates.

She threatened to centralize Germany’s pandemic response and override regional powers, a move that would be legally and politically risky and would undermine traditional German federalism.

Jamie Dettmer is VOA reporter. This article is published courtesy of the Voice of America (VOA).