In recent nights, rioters have poured on to the streets of 10 Dutch cities in what has been the closest Europe has come to open revolt against the coronavirus restrictions imposed across the continent.
The violence, the worst in four decades, might be put down to the liberty-loving culture of the country but, perhaps not coincidentally, the Netherlands is also the very last EU member state to start vaccinating the public and offer some hope that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
The reality is, however, that the Dutch are not standout stragglers among the pack of 27 member states. The EU as a whole has been lethargic in getting the vaccines they have purchased into the arms of the citizens whose taxes who have paid for it.
The UK has administered 10.5 doses per 100 people. The best performing EU member state is the tiny country of Malta, with four doses administered per 100 people. The EU average is just two doses per 100 people.
A new forecast provided to the Guardian by the data analytics company Airfinity, based on the agreed vaccine supply deals and taking into account the latest developments in terms of delayed production, suggests that the UK will have achieved herd immunity by vaccinating 75% of the population by 14 July, closely followed by the US on 9 August. The EU will have to wait until 21 October.
“The EU’s challenge is largely supply related,” said Rasmus Bech Hansen, Airfinity’s chief executive. “Their rollout is behind the UK because the EU approved vaccines later, made preorders later and, until recently, purchased less on a per capita basis than the UK.
“The EU has also much less production of the working vaccines, especially AstraZeneca, and only limited production of Pfizer/BioNTech. Furthermore, the EU invested less on a comparative basis in early R&D and production which is now causing delays in production scale-up. Within the EU there are substantial differences in roll-out speed which can be explained by differences in national preparedness.”
To add British insult to injury, Boris Johnson and his health secretary, Matt Hancock, have not been shy in highlighting the UK’s singular triumph in getting jabs in arms.
It is perhaps not surprising then that the fear in Brussels and elsewhere is that that frustrations vented in Rotterdam, Eindhoven and Amsterdam will be voiced elsewhere.
If Brussels cannot offer hope that the curfews and cafe closures will end this summer, then attitudes are only likely to harden towards governments and the EU as a project. The difficulties with the EU’s vaccination strategy do not come out of a vacuum, after all.
Italy had cause to criticise the EU for a lack of solidarity during the early weeks of the pandemic last year, when personal protective equipment was lacking in its over-burdened hospitals.
The 27 member states’ agreement on €750bn recovery fund was held up by a row over attempts to tie Hungary and Poland to rule of law conditions, sparking questions over the shared values of the member states.
It is in this context, then, in which the European commission received AstraZeneca’s “surprising” announcement last Friday that there would be a 60% shortfall in the pharmaceutical company’s expected deliveries of its vaccine this quarter.
The bloc is relying on the company, once its product receives the expected regulatory authorisation on Friday, for a total of 400m doses – just under a quarter of that had been due in the first quarter of this year.
The commission’s health commissioner, Stella Kyriakides, was visibly angry as she castigated AstraZeneca in a statement on Monday night, announcing plans for a new register to force vaccine suppliers to notify the commission of any exports out of the bloc. Germany’s health minister, Jens Spahn, fleshed out the plan: exports would need approval. The EU wanted its “fair share”.
There is a lot at stake in the coming weeks. For all the economic consequences of Brexit for Britain, its comparative success on vaccinations will be held up as proof positive that another way can be fruitful. The scenes from the Netherlands will be taken as a warning that for all that the Europe’s streets are generally, spookily, still, emotions are at risk of running high.