Will the 27 EU leaders slash champagne on Friday for their reunion in Brussels? Nothing is less certain, because they must agree on a recovery plan, far from being unanimous despite the historic recession that threatens.
The conductor of the summit, the president of the Council Charles Michel, however put the pressure: in his letter of invitation sent Wednesday evening, he urged the heads of state and government to find a compromise, to support the economy facing the pandemic.
“Now is the time. An agreement is essential. It will require hard work and political will on the part of all,” warned the former Belgian Prime Minister in his letter.
On the negotiating table: a recovery plan of 750 billion euros, made up 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.
It is the first time that the 27 EU heads of state and government have all met in Brussels since the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic in Europe and the containment measures that followed, forcing them to speak remotely by videoconference.
And during the last face-to-face meeting, on February 20, they left on a failure. 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.
Each country has a veto, they promise to be long and difficult and this extraordinary summit planned for two days may not be the last.
“An agreement is not guaranteed. On the contrary, there are still major differences to be overcome,” admitted a senior European official on the eve of the meeting.
The hardest-to-convince leader should once again be Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, already seen as partly responsible for the failure of the February summit.
Leader of the so-called “frugal” states – besides the Netherlands, Austria, Denmark, Sweden, and to a lesser extent Finland -, it expressed many reservations about the support plan which should benefit above all to the countries of the South, Italy and Spain in mind.
The “frugals” are in favor of a reduction in subsidies, preferring repayable loans. In addition, they demand solid reforms from the beneficiaries for all money paid.
– Merkel’s birthday –
Demands that make their neighbors to the south jump, anxious to find themselves obliged to submit to a program imposed by others, as Greece had been at the height of the eurozone crisis, forcing its people make painful sacrifices.
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.
In this great bargain, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose country has been chairing the EU since July 1, raises a lot of hope.
The latter, who is celebrating her 66th birthday on Friday, has spared no effort to convince her peers of the urgency of adopting the aid plan.
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.