Sixteen years ago, Giandomenico Majone, an Italian professor of political science, made an astute observation: In the European Union, he wrote, the ends and the means of policymaking are reversed. In national states, the ends are the policies themselves, from raising wages for workers to reducing regional inequalities and attracting foreign investment. Governments pursue these ends, using the means at their disposal, because they have won elections on the promise to do so.
By contrast, voters in the E.U. have little direct say on the legislative direction of the bloc. As a result, policies become the means of accomplishing quite different ends. For example, the union’s common agricultural policy, introduced in 1962, used farming to demonstrate the feasibility of federal-style policymaking, in the hope it would lead to more. The vaccination program was no different. It was never just about getting shots into people’s arms.
So what was it about? One goal, clearly, was to increase the power of E.U. institutions — notably the European Commission, led by Ursula von der Leyen. By centralizing vaccine procurement in its hands, it sought greater control over the bloc’s health policy. Such transfers of responsibility are rarely reversed, even if the policies themselves are a failure. This is what Professor Majone called “integration by stealth.”
A centralized vaccine strategy would also, leaders suggested, give meaning to an E.U. struggling to find its place in a challenging geopolitical environment, demonstrating the bloc’s capacity to unite. Yet the attempt amounted to an enormous institutional experiment conducted amid a global health crisis. It was a breathtakingly reckless gamble that didn’t come off.
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