EU chief Ursula von der Leyen tries to pin blame for controversial move to establish hard border in Ireland  on deputy
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EU chief Ursula von der Leyen tries to pin blame for controversial move to establish hard border in Ireland on deputy

THE PRESIDENT of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, has shifted the blame for announcing a hard border on the island of Ireland - without consulting the UK or Ireland - on to her deputy, Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis.

Article 16 - the so called 'nuclear' option - of the UK-EU Brexit agreement was triggered briefly by Brussels last week to prevent vaccine imports reaching the UK from within the EU.

Mrs von der Leyen has since been roundly criticized by both Irish governments, the UK, and many EU states for a move that has been dubbed “vaccine nationalism”. 

A nervous Micheál Martin even considered requesting an intervention by US President Joe Biden to persuade Brussels to reverse course.

Jean-Claude Juncker, Mrs von der Leyen's predecessor, also waded into the fray saying he was "very much opposed" to her export restriction measures.

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Commenting on the vaccine procurement fiasco, Mr Juncker said: "It all went too slow, it all should have been done more transparently, even though that would have been difficult."

As opposed to accepting responsibility, however, the EU Commission's chief spokesman, Eric Mamer, indicated that "this regulation falls under the responsibility of Mr Dombrovskis'," referring to the former prime minister of Latvia, a long-time Brussels politician known for exercising caution. 

"In my country we have a saying, 'Only the Pope is infallible'. Mistakes can happen along the way the important thing is that you recognise them early on," Mr Mamer said. 

Others have pointed the blame at Mrs von der Leyen's "go it alone" leadership style and negotiation tactics.

One EU diplomat told Le Figaro: "It is a wonderful reflection of working methods we have known about for a long time, namely of hyper-centralisation of Ursula von der Leyen's cabinet with decisions made without consultation with the services concerned."

Another European source told La Monde: "Alarm bells that should have been ringing did not ring".

Ireland's Foreign Minister, Simon Coveney, criticised the Commission's careless decision, emphasising that it was made within only a month of the Irish border protocol coming into effect.

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"I think it was a mistake that everybody recognises should not have happened," he said.

"I mean in simple terms, you do not touch the protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland without full consultation with the people who are most impacted by it.

"The Irish government, the British government and, perhaps most importantly, political leaders in Northern Ireland.

"That's what happened on Friday, which should not have happened.

"And I think lessons have been learned as a result of that, and it certainly won't happen again."