MARK YOUR CALENDARS: German state health ministers agreed Wednesday evening to start administering coronavirus vaccinations on December 27, subject to the EU authorizing the jab. That may (or may not be) the day of a broader European vax rollout, given the ambition for a coordinated, EU-wide inoculation campaign. But it will, at least, be V Day for one speedy group of EU countries: Italian Health Minister Roberto Speranza said he and ministers from seven nations, including France and Germany, are proposing vaccinations begin on the same day in December.
The EU’s authorization for the fist vaccine is likely to come next week. EU countries should begin vaccinating people as soon as possible, urged European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen — “together, as 27, with a start on the same day,” as she told the European Parliament’s plenary Wednesday.
But don’t blame the EU for your country’s flaws: “I think there’s a misunderstanding there,” Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas told Euronews Wednesday when asked whether all EU nations will really be ready to start administering jabs simultaneously. “What is important is that all Europeans would have access to the vaccine on the same day. Then, national vaccination plans would start to kick in and then each member state will organize their own national procedures.”
A shot in the arm for the economy: “If vaccines are made available to all Europeans over the course of 2021, we could see a swifter-than-expected return of GDP to its pre-pandemic levels,” Economy Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni told reporters after a Eurogroup meeting Wednesday. But of course, “a credible vaccination strategy, with all the challenges that entails in terms of both logistics and ensuring sufficient acceptance rates among the population, is essential.”
GOOD MORNING. Someone is bit late to the party: Weeks after Alpine countries ended their fierce debate about whether to close ski resorts (the answer, except in Switzerland, was eventually yes, given the infection numbers across Europe), the World Health Organization’s Europe division has chimed in with some helpful advice: While skiing itself does not spread the coronavirus, “busy mountain resorts do,” the WHO said.
**A message from Goldman Sachs: The updated Carbonomics cost curve, analyzed by Goldman Sachs Research, reflects innovation across 100 different technologies to decarbonize power, mobility, buildings, agriculture and industry, and draws three key conclusions on the trends of zero net carbon.**
THANKS, BUT NO THANKS: Svetlana Tikhanovskaya isn’t keen to form a government outside of her homeland — even as MEPs mull effectively offering the Belarusian opposition an HQ, as Playbook reported. “We don’t want a government in exile because our fight is in Belarus,” Tikhanovskaya told us in an interview Wednesday, the day she received Parliament’s Sakharov Prize.
More than symbolism: It’s “a good initiative” to offer an office and staff to Sakharov laureates, Tikhanovskaya said. “But we are not going to establish a government as is … We are not going to say, you are minister of this, you are minister of that. We are trying to organize a future structure — just because we don’t have to think only about revolution, but what will happen in transition period.” David Herszenhorn has the story.
UNFINISHED 2020 BUSINESS
VDL SIGNALS PROGRESS: The path to a post-Brexit trade deal “may be very narrow,” with stumbling blocks over the level playing field and fisheries remaining, Ursula von der Leyen told MEPs Wednesday, but “there is a path to an agreement now.” The Commission president said negotiators have found “a way forward on most issues.”
On current standards and the right to deviate: Von der Leyen told MEPs the EU and the U.K. “have agreed a strong mechanism on non-regression” to stop the Brits from undercutting labor, social and environmental standards — that’s “a big step forward,” she said. But, she added, “difficulties remain on the question of how to really future-proof fair competition.”
So close and yet so far: “On fisheries, the discussion is still very difficult,” von der Leyen reported. “We do not question the U.K.’s sovereignty on its own waters, but we ask for predictability and stability for our fishermen and our fisherwomen. And in all honesty, it sometimes feels that we will not be able to resolve this question, but we must continue to try finding a solution.” More from David Herszenhorn.
‘Basic connectivity’: EU ambassadors endorsed a contingency measure to keep road transport running for six months in the event there’s no trade deal once the transition period expires at the end of this year. British companies would still be allowed to carry goods between the U.K. and the EU (assuming the U.K. offers EU companies the same), but can’t carry out additional pickups and drop-offs on the Continent. MEPs are due to vote on their position Friday.
But no free movement for Fluffy: British pets will need an animal health certificate to enter the EU and Northern Ireland after the end of the transition period. More from Cristina Gallardo.
THIS ONE WON’T BE FIXED ANY TIME SOON: One thing that makes Brexit so tricky is the fact that bilateral issues between Ireland and the U.K. have now become European problems. EU ambassadors are seeking to avoid another bilateral issue becoming a European one: the differences between North Macedonia and Bulgaria, which have so far blocked any attempt to open formal EU entry talks with Skopje. The Germany presidency took a last shot at unblocking the standoff (more background here and here).
The plural that smashed hopes: The Bulgarian ambassador argued that Sofia wants the reasons behind the disagreement to be understood, but added that he hopes “future presidencies” (that’s right, presidencies) will resolve it, two diplomats said. Others observed that neither France nor the Netherlands appeared all too upset by the standstill the Bulgarian veto is causing.
‘Looking forward’: Ambassadors finally agreed on the text of conclusions that will be published today. According to a draft seen by our own Jacopo Barigazzi, it will say the Council “looks forward to the holding of the first intergovernmental conference with the Republic of North Macedonia and — provided that conditions set in the Council conclusions of March 2020 are fulfilled — with Albania as soon as possible.” There are no new chapters to be opened for Serbia, on which the text says that “any glorification of war criminals must be prevented.” On Bosnia, the EU “calls for an inclusive process of electoral reform.”
OPINION — HOW TO MAKE THE EU’S MIGRATION PACT MORE HUMANE: The EU’s migration policies have created a mental health crisis on the Greek islands, writes Imogen Subdery from the International Rescue Committee in this op-ed for POLITICO. “European leaders should be working to end overcrowding on the islands, open more legal pathways for asylum seekers to make claims in Europe and create fair and meaningful mechanisms for solidarity among EU countries,” she argues.
EU BUDGET APPROVED: The European Parliament on Wednesday adopted the EU budget for the next seven years, with 548 MEPs — a significant majority — voting in favor. “We have a historic budget for a historic moment,” said Parliament President David Sassoli, citing the unprecedented amount of money aimed at getting the EU out of the corona crisis.
MEPs insist: “For the first time in the history of our Union we have ensured that the resources of the European budget are conditional on respect for the rule of law and democracy throughout Europe,” Sassoli said — and please, from New Year’s Day, despite a court case on the matter, brought forward by Hungary and Poland.
VDL pledge: The rule of law regulation “will apply from 1 January 2021 onwards. And any breach that occurs from that day onwards will be covered,” Ursula von der Leyen told MEPs. “Any case occurring after 1 January 2021 will be addressed. No case will be lost.”
SPEAKING OF THAT COURT CASE: The Court of Justice of the European Union has now become the final arbiter over what to do about Hungary’s and Poland’s democratic backsliding. And the case risks an immense level of politicization that its justices have long sought to avoid, writes Hans von der Burchard in this fascinating curtain-raiser.
WHAT WERE YOU THINKING? Hands up if you thought the European People’s Party group would exclude its Fidesz member Tamás Deutsch? Of course not. In Wednesday evening’s “intense” and at times “heated” meeting, according to participants, the EPP group fell short of such a decision.
Main takeaway: Deutsch had accused group Chairman Manfred Weber of employing methods of the Gestapo and the secret police forces in Stalinist Hungary. Doing so, as we now know, is well within the boundaries of what’s acceptable for the EPP, and won’t see you kicked out.
Deutsch got away with a rebuke: It was Weber himself who tabled an alternative to expulsion. The EPP group “strongly condemns” Deutsch’s statements in a “decision” agreed during the meeting (which was videoconferenced for those not present, and restricted to MEPs only). The decision says the request for expulsion put forward by Othmar Karas and about 40 other MEPs “remains on the table.” Write-up here.
Peak EPP rigor: Full pay, no more duties. The group will “withdraw with immediate effect from Tamás Deutsch all rights to speaking time in plenary on behalf of the Group, to nominations as a (shadow) rapporteur or other formal positions on behalf of the Group … until further decisions are made.”
Voting result: A total of 133 members of the 187-strong group cast their ballots in favor of the motion to kick the can down the road, six against and three abstained, according to the result of the vote, seen by Playbook. But who voted which way … went straight into the treasure chest of the group’s secretary general, Simon Busuttil.
Preemptive strike: Polish MEP Róża Thun outed herself as one of the six dissenters, tweeting: “Dear Opinion Makers, if you intend to hammer #EPP tomorrow, I kindly inform you that I fought to expel #TamasDeutsch and voted against the text postponing the decision until ‘health conditions allow this to happen’. I have lost. And #Orban opened another champagne!” In a direct response to Thun’s tweet, Deutsch said: “No comment. That’s it.”
Welcome to politics: “As a head of delegation, I fully support the decision taken, which is a step towards a decision. And yet I’m dissatisfied as we could have done more,” Andrzej Halicki, the leader of the 17 Polish EPP MEPs, told Playbook late Wednesday. He’s been a chief advocate of excluding Deutsch, and Fidesz as a whole.
Good luck with that — the group wants leaders to get their hands dirty. These “further decisions” should be made by someone else, according to the motion. The group “call[s] on the EPP party to take a final decision on the membership of Fidesz immediately when health conditions allow this to happen.” The parliamentary group won’t assume responsibility for (perhaps) creating faits accomplis on behalf of the party by asking the EPP’s EU leaders to act.
Some confusion: Karas had proposed changes and add-ons to the group’s rules of procedure, such as introducing the possibility of excluding whole delegations rather than individual MEPs only. Some MEPs, including Karas himself, reckoned these would be included in the decision the group eventually took, according to an email he sent to the group leadership, seen by Playbook, attaching the decision “with my changes which were accepted in our group chat.”
Alas, they weren’t. Weber made commitments that all of Karas’ proposals “will be covered,” according to the group leader’s camp — at some point early next year, but not as part of Wednesday’s debate.
Who’s the boss? The day began with a reminder of who’s calling the shots in the EPP party, and even the parliamentary group: MEPs said they learned from Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s office that their planned vote on Deutsch’s expulsion had been called off.
Now read this: “The EPP Group is a pro-European, values-based political family. We believe in a European Union that serves all Europeans. A European Union based on freedom, solidarity, democracy and the rule of law lies at the heart of the EPP Group,” says the group’s decision.
IN OTHER NEWS
TERROR CONVICTIONS: A French court has convicted 14 people in relation to the 2015 terror attacks on Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish supermarket. More from Reuters.
EU ACTS ON ETHIOPIA: The EU has suspended nearly €90 million in budgetary aid to Ethiopia because of the internal conflict in the country’s Tigray region, according to a Commission document seen by Simon Marks.
WACKY TOBACCY: A fight over the future of smoking is pitting health activists against Big Tobacco, as they battle over the EU’s policy on e-cigarettes. Carlo Martuscelli has the story.
SOUND OF COVID SILENCE: In the first weeks of Europe’s coronavirus lockdowns, seismologists reported that human-generated noise underwent the most severe and sustained drop in recorded history. But the brief interlude of quiet is already fading, with highly populated cities like Brussels back to the same levels of noise pollution. Eline Schaart has this interesting read.
OVER AND OUT
NATO’S BEEN BEEZY: NATO ambassadors got an early Christmas gift during their end-of-year meeting yesterday from the alliance’s deputy secretary-general: a jar of NATO-made honey. Since spring, NATO HQ has been home to three beehives and 90,000 bees, with an alliance spokesperson saying the project was part of the efforts to make the campus more environmentally friendly and to support biodiversity in the community.
BIRTHDAYS: MEPs Elsi Katainen, Adam Jarubas and Maria Arena; Former MEPs Jean-Luc Schaffhauser and Antanas Guoga, a POLITICO 28 alum; Pope Francis turns 84; Cambre CEO Victoria Main; Brunswick’s Linus Turner; GroupM’s Stevan Randjelovic; Muhammadu Buhari, president of Nigeria.
MANY THANKS: Jacopo Barigazzi and our producer Miriam Webber.
**A message from Goldman Sachs: Goldman Sachs Research continues to study, analyze, and understand the reasons behind net zero becoming more affordable. Technological and financial innovations, supported by policy, are flattening the de-carbonization cost curve, and three key conclusions are clear. 1. Low-cost de-carbonization technologies, mostly renewable power, continue to improve consistently through scale, reducing the lower half of the cost curve by 20 percent on average. 2. Clean hydrogen emerged as the breakthrough technology in the upper half of the cost curve, lowering the cost of de-carbonizing emissions in more difficult sectors (industry, heating, heavy transport) by 30 percent. 3. Financial innovation and a lower cost of capital for low-carbon activities have driven around one-third of renewables cost deflation since 2010, highlighting the importance of shareholder engagement in climate change, monetary stimulus and stable regulatory frameworks. Take a deeper look.**