Kurz is creating an Us (Eastern bloc plus Austria) vs. Them (Western states like France, Germany) in the EU in his fight for the solidarity clause that should allow for a fairer distribution of vaccine doses to deprivileged countries. The problem: his own country is not actually suffering as much as others. With a vaccine progress of around 15.4% having received the first shot, Austria fares better than Germany, currently at 12.9%, and lies above EU average. So why is he doing this? And what exactly is happening anyway?
First things first. Kurz has been pushing for this solidarity clause personally. Reason for the dispute are an additional 10 million BioNTech/Pfizer doses that the EU will get delivered earlier than expected and which it is now seeking to distribute fairly. Although Kurz tried to address the issue in a meeting of EU leaders, it was referred to the ambassadors to discuss on a lower political level. Fast forward to now, the issue has been discussed in the second round in COREPER (the meeting of ambassadors) and although the proposal by the Portuguese presidency of setting 30% of the 10 million vaccines aside as solidarity vaccines, has won broad support, the one starting the whole debate in the first place has left the table. That’s Austria, of course. Kurz has announced to opt out of the negotiated solidarity mechanism altogether, seeing as his country would have actually had to give up doses instead of getting them. This is due to the fact that – contrary to Kurz’s declarations – Austria is not among the five countries set to benefit from the solidarity scheme. Bulgaria, Croatia, Estonia, Latvia and Slovakia are the main beneficiaries of the new scheme. Alongside Austria, Slovenia and the Czech Republic decided to withdraw from the solidarity scheme, as well. Domestically, Kurz is presenting this as a win, since his country now at least does not have to give up vaccines. Instead, it continues to run on the distribution of vaccines proportional to population, which is the status quo in the EU anyway. So much for solidarity.
But why did he roll out this whole debate anyway?
Of course, one can only guess. What seems most plausible is that by siding with the Eastern bloc, Kurz is trying to ensure backing for his future initiatives. And these might not be towards more EU solidarity, seeing as he recently also expressed his regret over Orbán’s Fidesz expulsion from the EPP. Additionally, the press reports that this whole vaccine solidarity debacle was a means for Kurz to distract from the fact that he did not take action when the recently approved Johnson & Johnson vaccines were ordered. In either case, he is losing credibility in Brussels – in the hope to be celebrated at home.