Ursula von der Leyen’s threat to impose a ‘vaccine border’ in Ireland may have taken the world by surprise but was her erratic behaviour really so unprecedented?
Having found herself at the helm of an organisation that has worked tirelessly to remove borders and preserve the free movement of people, she decided it was time for a change. Internationalism and pan-national solidarity only take you so far.
Her actions in Ireland revealed a darker side. Could it be that, having railed against populism in Italy and Spain, she has become secretly susceptible to its charms? Watching MAGA supporters storm the Capitol, it occurred to her that here was a moment for the EU to shine. Yes, it was time for Ursula to play the Donald at his own game.
Late last Friday night, she felt impulsive, picked up her phone and tweeted ‘Build the wall!’ Once she’d started, she simply couldn’t stop. For the first time in her life, Ursula felt liberated. She experienced the heady concoction of impetuosity and power – the opposite of the dull meetings and consensus building of the EU Commission. What, she asked herself, is the point of hoovering up the sovereignty of 27 nations if you don’t exercise the power you’ve gained? Using Twitter as her direct channel to the world, she communed with her inner Trump – others would be forced to respond directly to her. With a flick of a finger, she invoked Article 16.
In one fell swoop, she created the previously impossible unity of Sin Féin, the DUP and the Irish and British governments. She had turned everything upside down and made history. ‘This is better than Middle East peace and Rocket Man put together’, she thought.
Liberated from bureaucratic decision-making and the pretence of the ‘rule of law’, EU leaders are now off the leash. ‘Fake News’ has been placed in German newspapers to cast doubt on the efficacy of the AstraZeneca vaccine. President Macron has become an anti-AstraZeneca- vaxxer. Like Trump, EU leaders have discovered the unique thrill of blaming other people for their problems.
Trump popularised MAGA hats. Can we look forward to Angela Merkel in a MEUG hat? Will we see President Macron encourage the invasion of the Wrexham vaccine plant by men dressed as Celts and Gauls? Will Ursula end her speeches with ‘You’re very special, we love you, now go home’?