The 27 EU leaders on Friday began their first real summit in Brussels in almost five months, a crucial meeting which promises to be very difficult to reach an agreement on a recovery plan for the threatened economy. by a historic recession.
“This is a moment of truth and ambition for Europe,” said French President Emmanuel Macron, arriving at the summit.
Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, said she expected “very difficult negotiations”.
Summit conductor Charles Michel was optimistic: “I am completely convinced that with political courage it is possible to reach an agreement”.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has somewhat showered his momentum, estimating the chances of success “at less than 50%”.
His Italian counterpart, Giuseppe Conte, put pressure on him to overcome the differences: “It is in the interest of the Italians who continue to suffer and of the citizens of the EU”.
The leaders arrived all masked at the meeting, which is taking place, for the first time in history, without a journalist physically present in the huge building.
A very special atmosphere for a day when two leaders are celebrating their birthday: the Portuguese, Antonio Costa, 59 and Angela Merkel, 66. The latter received many gifts, including bottles of wine (including a white burgundy) from Macron.
On the menu for negotiations: a recovery plan of 750 billion euros, consisting of 250 billion loans, and especially grants up to 500 billion, which will not have to be reimbursed by the beneficiary States.
It is backed by the long-term EU budget (for the period 2021-2027) of 1.074 billion euros.
During their last face-to-face meeting on February 20, the 27 had split up. They then only had to agree on the EU budget for 2021-2027. But the crisis went through there and a recovery plan was invited to the negotiating table.
– Solidarity yes … but –
Each country has a veto, they promise to be long and this extraordinary summit planned for two days may not be the last.
The most difficult leader to convince should once again be Mr. Rutte, already considered partially responsible for the failure of the February summit.
Leader of the so-called “frugal” states – besides the Netherlands, Austria, Denmark, Sweden, joined by Finland -, it expressed many reservations on the support plan which should benefit above all to the countries of the South, Italy and Spain in the lead.
In Brussels, he reaffirmed his positions: “Solidarity, yes (…) But at the same time, we can also ask these countries to do everything possible to solve (their problems) by themselves- same, next time. And you do that through labor market reforms, the pension system … “, he said.
The “frugals” are in favor of a reduction in subsidies, preferring repayable loans to them. In addition, they demand substantial reforms from the beneficiaries for all the money paid.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and President of the European Council Charles Michel (d) greet each other before the European Summit in Brussels on July 17, 2020 (POOL / STEPHANIE LECOCQ)
Requirements that make their southern neighbors leap, anxious to find themselves with the obligation to submit to a program imposed by others, as had been Greece at the height of the eurozone crisis.
To better control these countries, deemed lax on the budgetary level, Mr. Rutte wants their reform plans to be validated unanimously by the 27 (and not by qualified majority as Charles Michel planned).
Another delicate subject: the link between the payment of money and respect for the rule of law, for the first time included in an EU budget. However, Poland and Hungary, which are both the subject of procedures within the Union because of attacks on the independence of the justice system or fundamental rights, are holding back.
“We do not agree with the arbitrary treatment of the question of the rule of law,” warned Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki upon his arrival.
In this great bargain, Mrs. Merkel, raises a lot of hope. Agreeing with France’s opinion, it accepted that funds be borrowed on a large scale in the name of Europe, thus breaking a taboo in a country hitherto largely opposed to the idea of a common debt