Micheál Martin was pretty exultant after an EU leaders’ video summit in late January. After hours of talks with his 26 counterparts, the Taoiseach said that by April Ireland would have strong Covid-19 vaccine supplies – and then the real challenge would be efficiently getting those jabs into arms.
Mr Martin reflected that it was all good for Ireland – one of the EU’s smaller states – to avail of the combined buying power of 27 states representing 450 million people. The alternative of going it alone in a crowded and hyper-competitive world vaccine market would leave Ireland paying more for less, to be delivered later.
But spool on just six weeks and we find EU vaccine solidarity is under serious strain with slow supplies and serious resistance in France and Germany to using AstraZeneca, which is compounding their surprising sluggishness in organising their vaccination campaigns. Austria and Denmark, the star EU vaccine performers, are each eyeing up an alliance with Israel which has taken the global prize for vaccinations.
Hungary, whose relations with the EU deteriorated further yesterday when Premier Viktor Orban pulled his 12 MEPs out of the EPP group before they were pushed out, had already brought vaccines from Russia and China. Now the Czech, Slovak and Polish governments want to go the same route. There is no EU law against this – but it is very poor politics.
The problem is that the Government has totally pinned its virus remedy hopes – amid an interminable stretch to Lockdown Number Three – on the Brussels’ vaccine supply regime which right now is looking more than a little creaky. The Brussels’ inoculation target writ large is that 70pc of people across all member states will be fully vaccinated by September – but at current rates of progress no EU country is anywhere near that.
The headline on the German mass-circulation Bild this week was rather telling. “Dear Britons – we envy you,” it read. Another simple statistic also screamed out of other media reports on mainland Europe: the EU’s best vaccine rates are now around 7pc. The UK rate is nearing one in three for at least one dose administered.
Little percentage just now for political leaders to recall that the world’s current three world vaccine leaders – Israel, the US and the UK – handled the virus itself with less effect than the EU states. As Israel announces a reopening and Boris Johnson tentatively cites June 31 as “freedom day” in England, this is all about the vaccines race.
On the home front there is little advantage in the Taoiseach or Health Minister Stephen Donnelly citing Ireland's position being relatively high up the EU vaccine leader board. The instant riposte is that it is a pretty poor leader board just now.
Research cited by Politico reporting from Paris suggested fewer than one in five French people were satisfied with their government's vaccine management. But while one in four French people were prepared to give the EU a vaccine thumbs up, just 17pc of Germans were of the same view.
Public weariness is focused nearer home at government leaders rather than the EU administration in Brussels. But it is now being echoed about the EU capital that at the last online leaders’ summit, on Thursday and Friday of last week, several laid things on the line about faster vacccine approvals and delays with supply lines.
The defence from Brussels relies heavily on asserting "teething problems” will be remedied and supplies will be flowing aplenty in "quarter two” of the fiscal year which starts next month. It harks back to Mr Martin's world view at the end of January.
Yesterday, EU Commission vice president Valdis Dombrovskis, the man who took over Phil Hogan’s trade portfolio last September, strongly articulated this “better vaccine times coming" in an interview on BBC World Service radio.
Other Brussels officials mutter darkly about whether the national authorities will be equal to the administrative challenge if supplies begin to seriously flow. The case of Germany is cited and the contrast with its early response, involving swift lockdown, efficient testing and tracing, with current poor vaccination rates.
"Morocco is vaccinating more quickly than Germany," Marco Buschmann, an MP with the Free Democrat Party said earlier this week.
It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that everyone must try harder to deliver hoped-for freedoms this autumn.
Otherwise it might be a case of “try 2022”.