One word has become a symbol of the passing year for the European Union – a pandemic, the fight against which has become the dominant theme. “The pandemic will last longer than previously thought,” said Germany’s new health minister, Karl Lauterbach. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen also said that the fourth wave of coronavirus flooding Europe was severe enough, but in 2022 we are likely to face even more serious challenges.
Vaccination, vaccination, vaccination
We have faced a new threat – the Omicron variant, said von der Layen and emphasized that the EU must combat it by speeding up the pace of vaccination. “Scientists tell us that vaccination and revaccination provide the best protection against COVID-19,” she said, adding that the EU has signed contracts with manufacturers and, if necessary, vaccines can be adapted to new mutations.
Last year, the European Commission bought around one billion doses of vaccines for EU citizens. Another 350 million has been donated to the UN’s international vaccination campaign, Covax. In the new year, the EU will continue to buy vaccines. “The goal for 2022 is to ensure that 70% of the world’s population is fully vaccinated by the middle of the year. We will step up our efforts to support Africa, which has the lowest vaccination rates in the world,” said Ursula von der Layen.
The vaccination rate in many EU countries is too low
In 2021, Brussels began buying the vaccine at first slowly and then more systematically. After another wave of coronavirus infection subsided in the spring, a relatively calm summer ensued. Nightlife has resumed across the European Union, schools have reopened and beaches have become accessible to holidaymakers. However, an average of 66% of vaccinated elderly adults out of 66% proved insufficient to prevent a new wave of infection in the autumn, as well as the problem of insufficient hospital beds in some EU Member States.
Vaccination rates in the EU vary significantly: from 26% in Bulgaria to 82% in Malta. However, the responsibility for combating the pandemic lies with the EU member states themselves: conducting a vaccination campaign, imposing restrictive measures, organizing tests at work, in shops, restaurants, or schools. The EU can only watch from the sidelines this insane puzzle of various measures and rules. But Brussels has at least largely managed to maintain the transparency of the EU’s internal borders through a pan-European vaccination passport.
Mandatory vaccination in the EU?
Austria and Germany want to introduce mass compulsory vaccination. Greece, Italy, and other countries provide for this to apply only to certain occupational and age categories. In 2022, EU health ministers will have to urgently discuss whether it makes sense to introduce compulsory vaccination throughout the European Union. Because then the question will inevitably arise whether, for example, Germany, with its mandatory vaccination, will allow unvaccinated EU citizens from other countries to enter the country.
Restoring the economy and the rule of law
The EU’s economic recovery, which began in 2021, must continue and be maximized in 2022. At some point, the budgets of the EU Member States will have to be put in order. The € 750 billion EU recovery program, of which the first tranches are already being disbursed, serves as a means of economic recovery. The program, financed for the first time through debt co-financing, will primarily benefit countries in the south and east of the EU and, above all, Italy.
Poland and Hungary will not receive any money for now. They presented their investment programs, but the European Commission refused to pay until the conflict with the rule of law in Poland and Hungary was resolved. 2021 will be remembered for the heated debate over the judiciary and the EU’s fundamental values, which are publicly questioned or rejected by national conservative governments in Budapest and Warsaw.
In 2022, the centrifugal forces within the European Union itself may be strengthened. Now that moderate Chancellor Angela Merkel has left Europe’s political scene, a decisive battle could be fought. At least such statements were made by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. “One thing is for sure: The era of ambiguity, unclarity, and silence is over with Merkel. We are now preparing for a battle with a raised helmet, “Orban said on the occasion of the change of government in Berlin.
Macron plans to change Europe
In 2022, all attention will be focused on France. President Emmanuel Macron will run for a second term in April. At the same time, he will hold the post of President of the Council of the European Union. In the election campaign against right-wing politicians, Macron wants to show that he will change Europe, as he promised. First and foremost, the French leader wants to make the EU a strategically independent player in foreign policy. He intends to unite the other EU governments around the foreign policy goals of China, the United States, Russia, and the rest of the world during the Strategic Summit in the spring of 2022.
To this end, EU foreign and defense policy must be more interlinked. After the rather indecisive Angela Merkel, Macron hopes to find allies for her plans in the face of new German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. The first test of a “sovereign” Europe may come as early as 2022, when, according to various estimates, the Russian president could invade Ukraine. How will the EU react? How will NATO react? The Baltic States and Poland have long called for stronger protection, including from the European Union.
The smoldering drama: Migration
The issue of migration and asylum is a constant subject of controversy within the European Union. This is not just about the situation on the border with Belarus, but also along the English Channel, the Canary Islands, Italy, and Greece. In 2021, no decisions were made in this regard. Will they be taken in 2022? Will people be admitted, accepted and assigned? These are still the most important questions.
Proponents of a tough approach to migration, such as Balazs Orbán, the Hungarian government’s deputy prime minister, can imagine the EU without asylum laws. The current system cannot stop people at the border, Orban said. At the same time, Amnesty International accuses the EU of continuing to disregard human rights and the right to asylum, and of forcing people to take dangerous journeys.