The boom-and-bust routine of expectations from the EU

by Antonis D. Papagiannidis

On one side growing vaccination nationalism, already pitting the EU against the U.K. – a Member State until some weeks ago – in the AstraZeneca quarrel; on the other side, the crumbling pretense of Covax, the WHO initiative to help lower-income countries join in vaccination efforts. The Covid-19 pandemic, as it is evolving, erodes expectations that this modern-times plague would show the benefits of collective action at a global – or, nearer home, at a European level. To compound this disillusionment, the sinking feeling of European Commission mismanagement over vaccine supplies is causing damage of disastrous proportions to the image of “Europe” to nervous national public opinions around the continent.

For Greek public opinion, which has got once more the habit to rely unquestioningly on European support, the fact that currently experienced vaccine shortages have to do with Brussels mismanagement may well awaken earlier reflex: venting resentment towards “Europe”. The fact that some 2% of the population has got the jab, a percentage close to the EU average but very much below the 5% mark in the (Trump-blighted) U.S. and almost 10% in the (Boris Johnson-administered) U.K., not to talk of the 45+% in Israel, is cause for concern.

If one ventures to a quite different public opinion minefield, the EU stance over Turkish truculence in the region that is of interest to Greece (and Cyprus), one has cause for further disillusionment.

As the March 25/26 EU Summit gets nearer, a Summit from which some sort of credible sanctions framework was expected to be put in place, so as to contain Ankara, the feeling of let-down increases. Along with bilateral exploratory talks between Athens and Ankara (under EU encouragement, meaning pressure) and informal multilateral consultations (under UN auspices) over the Cyprus issue, any hopes of EU pressure to Turkey are waning. So, when Greek PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis reiterates – on the vaccination front – that Greece will deploy its campaign  along with the EU (which is supposed to be a global player, thus able to exert pressure over the pharma industry to ensure vaccine supplies) and also vows that EU support is here to stay over Greek-Turkish disputes, one sees the well-known routine of boom-and-bust over expectations from the EU being rolled out. Again.

Moreover, as the Covid-19 pandemic keeps unfolding in Europe – that is, the economic hinterland for Greece, but also the place of origin for most of Greek tourism – the relaxation of EU fiscal rules and the promise of Generation Next EU funding have built a warm feeling of safety and protective solidarity. The nagging question is: what if all this gets into reverse at some point in the not-so-far-away future?