COVID-19 vaccine is top priority for Portugal's EU presidency, PM says

Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa and European Council President Charles Michel give a joint news conference following a meeting at the European Commission in Brussels, Belgium December 1, 2020. Stephanie Lecoq/Pool via REUTERS

LISBON (Reuters) - Securing a coronavirus vaccine for all European countries will be a top priority for Portugal when it takes over the presidency of the European Union next January, Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa said on Tuesday.

"We must guarantee we have a vaccine available which is effective in stopping COVID and which permits us to reach on the same day all countries of Europe," Costa said at a news conference with European Council President Charles Michel.

Speaking after a meeting to discuss Portugal's upcoming EU presidency, both Costa and Michel underlined the urgency of resolving the dispute with Hungary and Poland over rule-of-law conditions that the bloc intends to attach to recovery funds so the money can be released.

"There is no Plan B to approving the budget and recovery fund at the next council on the 10th and 11th December. I have told Charles Michel I am ready to be here a few extra days if necessary," Costa said.

Hungary and Poland said on Thursday the EU could not attach rule-of-law conditions to funds unless it changed its founding treaty, digging in their heels after vetoing the EU budget and a coronavirus recovery fund earlier this month.

The European Union is investigating the nationalist governments of the two countries for undermining the independence of their judiciaries and media, and had sought to attach conditions to the disbursement of EU cash.

"We really are committed in our efforts to support the German presidency in resolving these issues in coming days," Michel said.

(Reporting by Victoria Waldersee; Editing by Nathan Allen and Angus MacSwan)

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