The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the view of The Hill

COVID-19 one year later: We need to help the EU before China does

Will America fumble its once-in-a-generation opportunity to win back Europe? Or will it surrender its mantle of leadership and compassion to China, despite having given birth to the virus, which now aggressively seeks to exploit its vaccine availability to widen the wedge between the U.S. and its European allies.  

While America rightfully basks in its incredibly successful vaccination program, the EU remains mired in incompetence and recrimination, leaving Italy and much of Europe with recurrent lockdowns, protracted economic devastation and tens of thousands of new infections each day. As countries such as the U.S., Israel and the UK move rapidly toward a more normal future, Italy, France and Germany are currently administering fewer doses per 100 citizens than far less prosperous countries such as Serbia, Chile and Morocco.

The U.S., of course, must ensure that its population is sufficiently protected before extending a helping hand to others. However, the current situation in Italy and other European countries offers an exceptional opportunity to reach out directly to ordinary Europeans whose loyalties are aggressively being sought by China and Russia through vaccine inveiglement. It is an opportunity which, if wasted, will not easily be rectified in coming months and years. If implemented dramatically, it will be a policy triumph that could bear fruit for years to come.   

How did the world’s two most economically powerful democracies end up in such drastically different situations?  

Precisely one year ago, March 18, 2020, when the covid virus was raging in Italy but still largely absent from America’s shores, I warned that, “America will soon see the tipping point in its rear view mirror… the U.S. will ignore the Italian tragedy at its peril.” I also highlighted that, “those who believe the U.S. will somehow be different should remember — it’s the same virus.”  

What followed was a steep and deadly learning curve.  

But despite initial blunders, America’s executive and congressional leaders, unlike the EU, had the foresight and resolve to implement what has proven to be a lifeline not only for the U.S. but for the world — Operation Warp Speed.

This public-private partnership not only facilitated and accelerated the development of numerous vaccine technologies, but it also ensured that pharmaceuticals would be ready to rapidly produce and distribute those vaccines deemed successful following streamlined Food and Drug Administration (FDA ) approval. The U.S. took these steps knowing that some vaccine candidates would not prove successful and, indeed, there was no guarantee an effective vaccine could be developed so quickly. The Biden administration has implemented extraordinary distribution measures and the U.S. is now vaccinating about 2.3 million people per day, with July 4 set as a date to give renewed meaning to American independence.

In contrast, during 2020 the EU’s political elite did what it does best: it wallowed in bureaucratic quibbling and avoided making the decisive political and financial decisions required by the extraordinary catastrophe facing its people. Much has been written in the European press concerning the failure of Europe’s leaders, and while the EU has reluctantly acknowledged some errors, it has failed to answer the bottom line question. Even assuming it was necessary to purchase the vaccines as a collective body, why couldn’t the EU achieve what the U.S. and Israel achieved? Why can’t it vaccinate as great a percentage of its population as several far less well-off countries have done?  

On this side of the Atlantic, the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel appears to be an ever receding glimmer, causing disappointment and deep dissatisfaction within the EU. Italy, for example, has still only vaccinated approximately 4 percent and 45 percent of those over 70 and 80 years of age, respectively. Germany has managed to fully vaccinate about 3.5 percent of its population, compared to more than 10 percent in Chile. The problem lies not with Italy or Germany, but with the EU leadership that failed to do what was necessary to ensure an adequate supply of vaccines.  

More than 70 years ago, the Marshall Plan effectively blocked the Soviet Union’s encroachment into the heart of Europe. China is now mounting a similar political and economic incursion on virtually every continent.  

At his confirmation hearing, William Burns, the nominee to be the next director of the CIA, emphasized that U.S. national security requires that the U.S. counter China’s “adversarial, predatory” leadership. If we pass up this unique opportunity to prevent China from regaining an even greater toehold in Europe, shame on us.  

Marc J. Schiller is a retired attorney living in Orvieto, Italy. He is the former senior deputy general counsel for litigation at DTTL, the global entity for Deloitte, the accounting and professional services firm headquartered in London.

Tags biden administration Chinese influence Coronavirus COVID-19 COVID-19 anniversary COVID-19 vaccines Europe COVID-19 Joe Biden lockdowns Pandemic Russian influence William Burns

Copyright 2023 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

More Healthcare News

See All
See all Hill.TV See all Video

Most Popular

Load more


See all Video