Buongiorno and welcome to Europe Express.
Italian cocktails such as the Aperol Spritz are being enjoyed in many European capitals these sunny days, but mixing Covid-19 shots is proving a recipe with potentially toxic effects for the government of Mario Draghi. We will explore why recent flip-flops on this latest vaccination trend are dominating the political debate in Italy.
Sticking with toxic politics, an en masse resignation at the Oslo city council has highlighted the difficulties even respectable Nordic oil producing countries face in working out how to meet their international climate obligations.
As for the EU’s stalled Banking Union, the ball did not move yesterday because of multiple differences between eurozone finance ministers gathered in Luxembourg. Eurogroup chief Paschal Donohoe, who has been trying to land a “work plan” setting out how to advance the complex initiative, said it would take more time to agree the plan between member states and that he would return to the matter later this year. Here is a full rundown of why the project remains blocked.
Mixing Covid-19 vaccines risks turning into a toxic cocktail recipe for Mario Draghi’s government, as an increasing number of Italians begin to shun immunisation, writes FT Milan correspondent Silvia Sciorilli Borrelli.
Italian authorities last week banned the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine for people younger than 60. At the same time, they sought to impose mRNA jabs, such as BioNTech/Pfizer and Moderna, as the second dose for almost 1m people who had already received a first dose of the vaccine.
Both moves were prompted by the death of an 18-year-old woman (who allegedly suffered from low blood platelets) from a rare form of blood clot two weeks after receiving her first AstraZeneca dose.
But this latest change in guidelines sparked panic among the public, with thousands of people cancelling their vaccination appointments. Adding to the public scare was Marco Cavaleri, a senior European Medicines Agency official, who was misquoted in Italian media as saying that the AstraZeneca jab should be banned altogether.
The EU regulator reiterated this week that the advantages of the AstraZeneca vaccine outweighed the risks for all age groups.
Nevertheless, the Italian government has come under fire for failing to restrict it for younger people earlier and for continuing to give the public mixed messages on a vaccine that has been discontinued in several European countries and was banned for certain age groups in others months ago.
The idea of an obligatory cocktail of vaccines was met with strong opposition in Italy, where several regional governments signalled that they would not follow Rome’s orders and vowed to offer citizens an option for their second dose.
Yesterday, after an increasing number of people refused the vaccine cocktail and with only 24 per cent of the population fully immunised, officials in Rome suggested Italy might follow the “Spanish model.” Under that policy, people can still opt to receive their second AstraZeneca dose regardless of their age after signing a liability waiver in case of adverse effects.
France has also approved mixing the AstraZeneca and mRNA vaccines for people under the age of 55, but it is not mandatory and applies to a smaller proportion of the population than in Italy.
Franco Locatelli, head of the health council, insisted preliminary studies showed mixing vaccines boosted the immune system’s response.
However, preliminary findings of a study published in The Lancet last month showed the vaccine cocktail amplified common side effects and therefore “might have some short-term disadvantages”.
The absence of unambiguous data on the effects of mixing led Italian commentators to harshly criticise the government’s decision and its poor communication on the AstraZeneca jab’s limitations.
Several analysts and politicians also claimed that the media had been sympathetic to Draghi’s government and the Covid-19 commissioner he installed, whereas the former prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, would have been “torn to pieces” had the same situation materialised.
Italy’s decision to set up vaccination “open days” — where people as young as 16 could show up without a booking to be immunised with any vaccine available — also came under fire domestically and abroad.
How would you feel about being inoculated with two doses of different Covid-19 vaccines? Take our poll here.
The European Central Bank’s governing council meets on a hillside in Frankfurt today, with inflation targets one of the big issues on their agenda. Figures released for May showed inflation was on the rise across most of Europe, with Luxembourg recording an increase of 4 per cent. At the opposite end, Greece, hampered by low tourism numbers, is still recording negative inflation.
A fierce and sometimes surreal controversy has felled Oslo’s entire government, giving a taste of some of the debates that are likely to resurface in national elections in September, writes Richard Milne, FT Nordic and Baltic bureau chief.
The entire centre-left Oslo city council resigned in protest on Wednesday after a vote of no confidence in Green politician Lan Marie Berg, because of her failure to disclose a huge cost overrun in a new water pipeline for Norway’s capital.
Berg is one of the most polarising politicians in Norway, as her outspoken attacks on petrol cars and more have drawn a torrent of criticism, some of it heavily misogynistic and racist.
She is running for Norway’s national parliament in elections on September 13 that the centre-left opposition — of which her Green party is part — are on track to win.
But the controversy surrounding her underscored the difficulties that Norway, western Europe’s biggest petroleum producer, is experiencing in working out how to meet its climate obligations.
The International Energy Agency warned last month that there should be no new oil and gas exploration to reach the Paris agreement goal of limiting global warming to 1.5C more than pre-industrial levels. But Norway’s main centre-left Labour party and ruling centre-right Conservatives have shown no desire to call time on the country’s oil industry.
The Greens have said they would not support any government that continues with oil exploration, but it is far from clear whether the party will gain enough votes to enter parliament. Many Norwegian voters appear put off by their tough rhetoric, with the Centre party — rivalling Labour as the biggest centre-left group — defending diesel cars popular with their mostly rural supporters.
The surreal aspect of the events in Oslo is that the same centre-left government is likely to be reborn without Berg, who wants to focus on her parliamentary run. That led the Centre party to accuse her of self-indulgence for not simply resigning and sparing the capital the spectacle of high political drama in the midst of a pandemic. It also demonstrated the divisions within Norway’s centre-left and the difficulties they could have in forming a coherent national government should they win in September.