European Union leaders gathered in Brussels on Friday for their first face-to-face summit in months to thrash out a post-coronavirus economic recovery package.
The good news is that the leaders of the 27 member states agree that a common response is needed. But the bad news is that they disagree on how the money should be handed out.
The Commission has proposed a recovery fund totalling €750 billion and has backed a joint Franco-German motion that most of the money — €500 billion — be dished out as grants to the member states most economically impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. There is also the trillion-euro EU budget, also known as the Multi-annual Financial Framework at stake.
The plan would be financed by a common debt — a first for the bloc.
But no sooner was the plan announced than cracks in the bloc’s unity once again started to appear.
Southern member states — Italy and Spain in particular — are all for it but they are opposed by the so-called “Frugal Four” — Austria, Denmark, Sweden, and the Netherlands — which want the amount to be handout out as grants and are wary of pooling debt with less solvent countries.
Unanimity is needed for the package to be approved so leaders have been holding rounds of talks ahead of the crunch summit.
Angela Merkel, who is celebrating her 66th birthday on Friday, met with Guiseppe Conte and Pedro Sanchez earlier this week, respectively her Italian and Spanish counterparts.
Merkel, who assumed the bloc’s six-month rotating presidency earlier this month, told the EU parliament that “Germany is prepared to show extraordinary solidarity”.
French President Emmanuel Macron meanwhile met with Conte and Portuguese leader Antonio Costa — who also celebrated his birthday at the summit — on Thursday. Earlier this month, he visited the Netherlands’ Mark Rutte.
Arriving at the summit, Macron said he that the meeting was “a moment of truth for the ambition of Europe.” He added that the health, economic and social crisis across the bloc requires “much more solidarity and ambition.”
EU leaders must also find common ground on the bloc’s next seven-year budget — known as the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF), which EU Council leader Charles Michel wants to amount to just under €1.1 trillion.
While EU diplomatic sources were divided over the chances of clinching a deal this weekend, the ball is now in the court of European Council president Charles Michel who brokers the talks.
“I know it will be very difficult,” he said arriving at the summit, “because it’s not only about money, it’s about people about European future, about our unity. And even if it’s difficult, I’m convinced with political courage it’s possible to reach a deal.”__EuroNews