Irish Taoiseach says ‘lessons to be learned’ over EU exports chaos

Ireland”s Taoiseach Micheál Martin has spoken out after Friday’s chaos over the EU’s move to tighten coronavirus vaccine exports and potentially invoke a safeguard clause in the Brexit deal.

The EU reversed course late on Friday saying that it would not invoke Article 16, which allows either the UK or the EU to unilaterally override the Protocol that keeps Northern Ireland in the single market.

The Commission should have spoken to the Irish government first, Martin told the BBC on Sunday.

“We’ve had that conversation and I think there are a lot of lessons to be learned,” he said.

Amid reports that the EU planned to invoke the article, Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney tweeted: “We are working with the EU Commission to try to resolve this issue and protect the integrity and operation of the NI Protocol.”

Arlene Foster, Northern Ireland’s first minister, had said the EU committed a “hostile and aggressive act” on Friday amid the chaos.

Martin told the BBC however that “it certainly wasn’t an act of hostility by the European Commission,” adding that in his experience there was an effort on behalf of member states to support the Good Friday Agreement.

“We’ve been four years negotiating the fallout of the Brexit referendum, the putting together of a European-UK trade and cooperation agreement and critically the putting in place of the Withdrawal Agreement and the Protocol to facilitate access for Northern Ireland’s economy to the single market as well of course to the UK market and to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland,” he added.

‘Bad decision’

Many politicians and analysts have spoken out following the short-lived move.

Dick Roche is a former Irish Minister of State for European Affairs. He has told Euronews that nobody can understand why Article 16 was proposed in this way:

“It was never intended to be used like this…it a bad decision by somebody within the Commission.” He also said that he has a lot of admiration for the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, and hopes for no long-term ramifications. “Certainly there should have been communication, certainly, there should have been discussion… the Commission will take a lesson from this.”

The EU had issued the export control regulation on coronavirus vaccines amid a row with pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca over the first quarter deliveries of vaccines.

The regulation placed controls on vaccines produced in the EU in an effort to have more “transparency” on exports, officials said.

It came after pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca said it would cut initial delivered to 31 million doses instead of the agreed-upon 80 million.

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