Do the EU-27 come together to an agreement? After hours of negotiations, the nerves seem to be blank. France’s president hit the table – and crushed Austria’s chancellor.
At the EU summit, French President Emmanuel Macron openly showed his displeasure with colleagues who demanded cuts to the Corona construction fund. “He hit the table and warned that such an attitude would end badly,” said one member of a delegation. Macron compared the position of Prime Minister Mark Rutte to that of former British Prime Minister David Cameron in EU budget negotiations, according to several sources.
Macron also said Austria’s Chancellor Sebastian Kurz was upset when he rose to answer a call outside the room. Shortly then made a frightened gesture theatrically and was “offended”, said one participant.
Macron threatens to leave the summit
The French President repeatedly criticized the attitude of the so-called “economical” countries – Austria, the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark – in the dispute over the Corona aid fund. Germany and France are also net contributors to the EU budget, but did not ask for anything in the negotiations, but fought “for the interests of Europe,” said Macron, according to a witness. In contrast, the “economical” countries behaved “selfishly” and made no concessions.
The president threatened that he would rather leave the summit than accept a bad agreement, the witness said. The French delegation said Macron’s behavior at dinner had been portrayed “somewhat caricaturally” in some media. It is correct that he was “tough with regard to the inconsistencies” in the position of the “economical” countries.
Interruption in negotiations
The summit was interrupted again on Monday night for small-group discussions. EU Council leader Charles Michel originally interrupted the plenary session of the 27 states for a 45-minute break on late Sunday evening. After about two hours, Chancellor Angela Merkel and her colleagues still weren’t in a big group again.
The delegation from a large EU state said shortly after midnight that the talks were still very difficult because the “thrifty” continued to block. Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz doesn’t listen and prefers to take care of media work. Kurz is also instrumentalizing the rule of law with the Netherlands to block.
Kurz meanwhile tweeted a photo of him sitting with his colleagues from Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands and Sweden, apparently to coordinate again.
Michel makes a dramatic appeal
The summit was already on the knife edge in the evening. EU Council President Charles Michel had started a last desperate attempt to prevent a summit debacle. However, his compromise proposal again met with bitter resistance.
At the dinner of the heads of state and government on Sunday, the Belgian made a dramatic appeal. He referred to the numerous compromise offers and concessions he had made since the start of the meeting on Friday. At the same time, he recalled the unprecedented crisis that the EU is facing due to the corona pandemic, but also the expected negative media response should the summit fail.
At the end of his contribution, Michel said: “It is my wish that we reach an agreement and that the FT (” Financial Times “) and other newspapers tomorrow will report that the EU has successfully accomplished a” Mission Impossible “.”
“Economical” let Michel flash – and offer deal
Michel’s offer was to reduce the total amount of non-repayable grants from the Corona crisis program from originally 500 billion to 400 billion euros, as diplomats reported. Austria, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands and Finland declined the deal.
Instead, the country group presented its own compromise offer. The plan is to reduce the amount of Corona aid and the total of the grants. The total volume should therefore be reduced by 50 billion to 700 billion euros. Half of this – 350 billion euros – is to be granted as non-repayable grants, the other half as loans. This was confirmed by several EU diplomats from the German Press Agency.
It is questionable whether the southern countries of Spain, Italy and Portugal, as well as some eastern EU countries, will suffice from subsidies of EUR 350 billion. Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, whose country would probably benefit most from Corona aid, criticized the resistance of the “thrifty”. They opposed “the overwhelming majority” of EU countries, he wrote on Twitter.
According to a diplomat, Germany, France and others also insisted on a total of grants of not less than 400 billion euros.
Chances of agreement are 50 percent
Throughout Sunday, expectations had wavered between hope and feared failure. Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) did not rule out a summit without a result. You and French President Emmanuel Macron and EU Council President Charles Michel negotiated throughout the day in small groups – sometimes with the southern countries like Italy, Spain and Portugal, sometimes with Eastern Europeans like Poland and Hungary, and sometimes with the “thrifty”. Negotiators estimated the chance of an agreement to be 50 percent.
Merkel had been skeptical about the third day of the summit in the morning. “I still cannot say whether a solution will be found,” said the CDU politician in Brussels. Macron said similarly and emphasized that there would be no solution “at the expense of European ambition” with him.
The EU heads of state and government actually only wanted to negotiate the hundreds of billions of euros in Corona aid funds for two days, on Friday and Saturday. But the “thrifty”, Austria, Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands and most recently Finland, which joined the group in the course of Saturday, resisted the fact that the majority of the money as non-repayable grants to the hardest of them Countries affected by the pandemic mainly in southern Europe.
According to diplomats, there was a lot of discussion on the night of Sunday. After several attempts at compromise, Merkel and Macron had left the nightly negotiations with the “thrifty” together, it was said from French diplomatic circles. Consistent sources spoke of “a very hard meeting”. The Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte was unimpressed: the two had just run “grumpy”.
Rutte criticized as a blocker
It was Rutte who Merkel, Macron and Michel had not only accommodated with the controversial amount of the grants. He also gave in to his demand for a control mechanism for the disbursement of funds. A Member State could therefore stop paying to individual recipient countries for the time being. Rutte was increasingly criticized as a blocker by his colleagues because of his attitude.
Negotiations remained extremely tough on Sunday. Council President Michel had to postpone the start of the discussions in large groups again and again. These were originally scheduled for 12 noon. With more than seven and a half hours late, the 27 heads of state and government finally got together shortly after 7 p.m.
Hungary and Poland are also blocking
The Corona Fund is not even the only problem at the summit, which is also expected to decide on the next EU budget framework for the period from 2021 to 2027. Here there are disputes with Hungary and Poland, which are opposed to plans to cut EU budget funds for violations of the rule of law in the future. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban does not yet want to make a decision at this summit.
Chancellor Merkel’s point of view would be a huge risk if the summit failed. It is not just about billions against the corona crisis and mass unemployment. In the negotiations, Merkel also sees a signal in the international showdown with the United States, China and Russia: will the EU manage the joint effort? Or does everything fail because of individual interests – even in the greatest crisis in which the community is facing the corona virus after the end of the Second World War?
Failure would be an extremely bad sign right at the beginning of the German EU Council Presidency, which lasted until the end of the year. The Chancellor is therefore trying to avoid a fragmented EU. Some in Berlin fear an end to the EU if this would continue.