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It was a summit for disaster planning — for the ongoing coronavirus pandemic; on a standoff over the bloc’s historic €1.82 trillion budget-and-recovery package; and for the prospect that negotiations with the U.K. would fail to yield a post-Brexit trade deal.
After EU heads of state and government conferred by videoconference on Thursday evening, leaders said the first two coronavirus vaccines would be approved next month. But that was perhaps the only bit of optimistic news.
The leaders described ongoing difficulties in devising common national protocols for the use of rapid antigen tests. They warned of logistical obstacles in manufacturing and distributing vaccines, as well as opposition from vaccine skeptics that would require an aggressive public relations campaign. They expressed deep worry that lifting containment measures too quickly could lead to a third wave of infections. And they hinted at the need for limiting travel that would likely put a huge damper on the Christmas and New Year holidays.
And if that wasn’t enough, they said there was a long — and growing — to-do list of difficult topics for their regular December summit that would require leaders to gather in person in Brussels despite the health risks. Those topics include a continuing push to approve more ambitious climate targets; ongoing tensions with Turkey in the eastern Mediterranean, as well as a potentially worsening economic fallout from the pandemic.
On the coronavirus, at least, the successful vaccine trials offered one bright light. In the budget standoff, leaders did not indicate any clear path toward resolving the dispute with Poland and Hungary, which blocked the fiscal package because they oppose a new mechanism that,