December 2, 2021 - 7:00am

In remarks reported by Bloomberg, the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, has raised the prospect of compulsory Covid vaccinations in the EU.

Speaking at a press conference yesterday she said “I think it is understandable and appropriate to lead this discussion now — how we can encourage and potentially think about mandatory vaccination within the European Union.”

To be clear, neither the Commission nor any other EU body has the power to enforce such a policy. The relevant policy areas are still under national control. Nevertheless, Von der Leyen wants a “common approach” and thinks that this is a discussion that “has to be led” (by her, presumably). 

Several EU member states are already moving towards vaccine mandates. Austria has already had a lockdown policy for the unvaccinated, and will introduce mandatory vaccination in the New Year. The incoming German Chancellor, Olaf Scholz, is planning compulsory vaccinations in his country. The Greek government is introducing €100 monthly fines on unvaccinated over-60-year-olds. Other national governments may spot an opportunity to pass the buck to Brussels. 

Von der Leyen is therefore pushing at an open door. Nevertheless, this would be a truly terrible policy for Europe. Even if an element of compulsion is justified at a national level (a very big “if”), the EU lacks the democratic legitimacy to lead on such a sensitive matter. 

Control over one’s own body is among the most fundamental of freedoms. The idea that a discussion about its removal should be led by an unelected official is an outrage. The elected leaders of Europe should remind Von der Leyen of her place — not to mention her performance the last time she was put in charge of vaccine policy.   

Aside from issues of personal autonomy, an EU-wide vaccine mandate makes no sense. While some EU countries have low vaccination and immunity rates, others do not. The idea that the citizens of one nation should be forcibly jabbed to deal with another’s problem takes Euro-federalism to a new and sinister level. 

What would a Vax Europaea mean for us in Britain? As a non-member we wouldn’t be bound by an EU-wide mandate, but it would probably mean further restrictions on EU travel for unvaccinated Britons. Still, at least we can comfort ourselves with the thought that if anyone forces a needle into our arms, it would be our own government.

Peter Franklin is Associate Editor of UnHerd. He was previously a policy advisor and speechwriter on environmental and social issues.