BRUSSELS | The 27 leaders of the EU meet on Friday in the flesh at Brussels, for the first time in nearly five months, with the objective to agree on a recovery plan, yet far from making the unanimity despite the historic recession that threat.
“It is a moment of truth, and of ambition for Europe,” said the French president Emmanuel Macron, arriving at the summit. He said he was “confident but cautious” about the possibility of an agreement to support the economy in the face of the pandemic.
Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, said he expected “very difficult negotiations”.
The conductor of the summit, Charles Michel, was optimistic: “I am totally convinced that with the political courage it is possible to get an agreement”.
The Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte, has somewhat showered his momentum, estimating the chances of success “less than 50 %”.
The officers arrived all hidden to the meeting, which was held, for the first time in history, without the reporter physically present in the huge building. A very special atmosphere for a day where the two leaders are celebrating their birthday: the German Angela Merkel, 66 years of age, and the Portuguese, Antonio Costa, 59 years of age.
On the table of negotiations: a stimulus package of 750 billion euros (1160 $ billion), comprising $ 250 billion of loans, and especially of grants of up to $ 500 billion, which will not have to be repaid by the beneficiary States.
It is backed by the EU budget in the long term (for the period 2021-2027) of 1074 billion euros (1663 billion $).
At the last meeting face-to-face, on the 20th of February, they had left a failure. They should then agree on the EU budget for 2021-2027. But the crisis is over there and a recovery plan is invited to the table of negotiations.
Solidarity yes… but
With each country having a veto, they promise to be long and difficult, and this extraordinary summit planned for two days might not be the last.
The leader the more difficult to convince should again be Mr. Rutte, already considered to be partially responsible for the failure of the summit in February.
Leader of the States so-called “frugal” — in addition to the netherlands, Austria, Denmark, Sweden, joined by Finland, it has issued many reservations about the plan of support which should benefit first and foremost the countries of the South, Italy and Spain in the lead.
In Brussels, he reiterated his position: “Solidarity, yes ( … ), But at the same time, we can also ask these countries to do everything possible to solve (their problems) by themselves, the next time. And that you made via reforms of the labour market, the pension system…”, he started.
The “frugal” are advocates of a reduction of subsidies, preferring instead the loans. In addition, they demand for any money paid to strong reforms on the part of the beneficiaries.
Requirements that drive their neighbors to the South, worried about ending up with the obligation to submit to a program imposed by others, as had been the Greece at the height of the euro zone crisis, forcing its population to painful sacrifices.
For better control of these countries, considered to be lax on the budget plan, Mr Rutte’s wish that their reform plans are validated by the unanimous vote of 27 (and not a qualified majority as provided by Charles Michel).
Another sensitive topic: the link between the payment of money and the respect of the rule of law, for the first time registered in an EU budget. However, Poland and Hungary, which are all the subject of procedures within the Union due to interference with the independence of the judiciary or fundamental rights, curbing of the four irons.
In this grand bargain, the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, raises a lot of hopes. She has not spared its efforts to convince his peers of the urgency to adopt the plan of assistance.
Taking the view of France, it has agreed that funds should be borrowed on a large scale in the name of Europe, thus breaking a taboo in a country hitherto been largely opposed to the idea of a common debt.