The coronavirus pandemic is the “greatest test of global solidarity in generations”, Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel have insisted, amid intense criticism of Europe’s handling of the vaccine rollout.
In a joint article alongside world leaders — coordinated by Project Syndication and published in The Independent — they add the pandemic has resulted in the “world’s worst economic crisis since World War II”, threatening social cohesion.
Joined by the president of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen and the United Nations general secretary Antonio Guterres, the leaders said: “Recovery of a strong and stable world economy is a fundamental priority.
“Indeed, the current crisis is threatening to undo the process we have made over two decades in fighting poverty and gender inequality.”
On international relations, they stressed the crisis calls for the “most ambitious decisions to shape the future”, adding: “We believe that this one can be an opportunity to rebuild consensus for an international order based on multilateralism and the rule of law through efficient cooperation, solidarity and cooperation.
“Health is the first emergency. The Covid-19 crisis is the greatest test of global solidarity in generations. It has reminded us of an obvious fact: in the face of a pandemic, our health safety chain is only as strong as the weakest health system. Covid-19 anywhere is a threat to people and economies everywhere.
“The pandemic calls for a strong coordinated international response that rapidly expands access to tests, treatments and vaccines, recognising extensive immunisation as a global public good must be available and affordable to all.”
However, the article comes amid intense criticism of Brussels for the bloc’s handling of the vaccine rollout and the explosive threat on Friday evening to trigger a clause in the Brexit agreement preventing vaccine exports from Europe entering Northern Ireland as a backdoor route into Great Britain.
Mr Macron, the French president, has also questioned the efficacy of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, suggesting last week it was “quasi-ineffective” in over-65-year-olds and suggested the UK’s policy of delaying a second jab in order to allow more people to receive a first jab was not “very serious”.
Boris Johnson’s official spokesperson pointed to the assessments announced by the Britain’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) chief executive Dr June Raine, who made “very clear that no corners were cut and no stones were left unturned” and said the public should remain confident about the safety of the vaccines.
In the article, the world leaders also highlighted the environmental emergency facing the planet, calling on leaders to “enhance our efforts to tackle climate change” and make economies more sustainable ahead of the November COP26 summit in Glasgow.
By early 2021, countries accounting for more than 65 per cent of global greenhouse-gas emissions, they added, are “likely to have made ambitious commitments on carbon neutrality”, but urged national governments to begin “implementing concrete plans and policies”.
It concludes: “To meet these challenges, multilateralism is not just another diplomatic technique. It shapes world order and is a very specific way of organising international relations based on cooperation, the rule of law, collective action, and share principles.
“Rather than pitting civilisations and values against one another, we must build a more inclusive multilateralism, respecting our differences as much as our common values enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”
The article is signed by the French president, the German chancellor, the secretary-general of the United Nations, the president of the European Council Charles Michel, the president of the European Commission, and the president of Senegal Macky Sall.