Leaders pledge to agree on recovery package next month

European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, and European Council president, Charles Michel, speak to the media following the videoconference of the EU leaders on 19 June. [Council]

EU leaders held “constructive” discussions on Friday (19 June) on the EU’s massive €750 billion recovery fund to overcome the coronavirus crisis and pledged to reach an agreement next month, despite the enormous differences among the member states. 

EU leaders spent just over four hours on Friday in their first discussion of the largest fiscal stimulus ever assembled by the bloc in response to the crisis wrought by the pandemic and the subsequent lockdown measures. 

The Commission proposed €750 billion for the new recovery fund and €1.1 trillion for the multiannual financial framework for 2021-2027, the EU’s long-term budget.

As expected, there were neither conclusions nor results following the videoconference. The discussion was meant to serve as the first opportunity for the heads of the 27 executives to express their priorities and to vent their concerns about the package.

EU agreement on recovery plan by July 'very difficult', officials warn

It will be “very difficult” to reach an agreement on the recovery fund and the EU’s overall seven-year budget by July, as intended, given the disagreements over the size, the distribution of the stimulus and the attached conditions, EU officials and national diplomats acknowledged on Wednesday (10 June).

“We don’t underestimate the difficulties”, the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, said after the virtual summit.

Despite the expectations were very low, leaders expressed their satisfaction about the constructive discussion, the sense of urgency shared by all, and the unanimous support to roll out “an ambitious response” that combines solidarity, investment and reforms, according to the European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen.

“I was also glad to hear that many leaders stressed that we must do everything in our power to reach an agreement soon in the European Council, before the summer break,” she added.

Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković, whose country held the rotating EU presidency this semester, said he was “encouraged” after listening to the rest of his colleagues.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the talks were “very constructive”. She added that everyone was aware that the “situation now is quite different” compared with the last summit held in Brussels in February, when EU leaders failed to reach an agreement on the EU’s seven-year budget.

How EU member states reacted to the Commission’s Recovery Fund proposal

Most EU member states have reacted positively to the European Commission’s €750 billion  Recovery Fund proposal, which aims to help the bloc cope with the devastating economic implications of the pandemic.

In the coming days, Michel will present a proposal, a negotiating table in the EU jargon, in an attempt to narrow the enormous distance among the capitals, especially between the so-called “Frugal Four” and the countries hard-hit by the pandemic such as Italy and Spain.

This proposal will be the basis for a new face-to-face summit “in mid-July,” he explained, the first European Council in Brussels since the pandemic hit in Europe. Diplomats and EU officials don’t exclude a second summit in Brussels in July, when Germany will start its semester at the EU’s helm.

Once the political agreement is reached by unanimity, it needs the consent of the European Parliament and the 27 national parliaments during the second half of this year, so the money can start flowing in early 2021.

Fiscal adjustment needed to unlock recovery funds, EU official warns

EU leaders will discuss for the first time on Friday (19 June) the €750 billion recovery fund proposed by the Commission to overcome the coronavirus crisis. But in order to access EU aid, member states will have to bring down their ballooning public debt, an EU official explained.

Michel recalled that the main bones of contention are the size of the recovery fund, the distribution between grants (€500 billion) and loans (€250 billion), the ‘rebates’ obtained by the “Frugal Four” and Germany from the EU budget, the allocation key to distribute the funds, the conditionality attached, and the creation of new EU taxes to pay back the €750 billion that the bloc will borrow from the markets. 

No consent to ‘historic’ recovery plan without new revenues, MEPs warn

The European Parliament will only give its consent to a new EU long-term budget if the basket of own resources is increased to pay for the recovery fund, the main political groups warned in a letter addressed to EU leaders ahead of Friday’s (19 June) summit. 

Von der Leyen defended the criteria proposed by the Commission to allocate the recovery funds, primarily based on employment figures from before the coronavirus crisis. 

She said the unemployment level of past years reflected “very well” the overall resilience of a country, which is precisely what they are trying to strengthen with the recovery fund to overcome this crisis and cope better with future ones.

Von der Leyen added that the distribution of the funds would not be very different if more recent data from the Commission’s spring forecast were used.

Von der Leyen proposes €750 billion stimulus under member states’ grip

European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, proposed on Wednesday (27 May) an unprecedented stimulus of €750 billion, mostly through non-refundable grants, with governments having a crucial role in deciding how the money will be spent.

Michel concluded that the videoconference was “very useful” to identify the stumbling blocks among the 27, although he stressed that there is a “common strong political will” to engage and reach an agreement next month.

Time is of the essence, European Central Bank President, Christine Lagarde, told the leaders, as the “EU economy is experiencing a dramatic fall,” according to EU officials.

She said the full effects of the EU’s worst economic downturn have not yet manifested themselves fully on the labour market and the euro zone’s unemployment rate could hit 10%.

She warned that financial markets were relatively calm given that they expected that member states would act.

[With Claire Stam and Beatriz Ríos; Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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