European Council Lays out Please-All Recovery Plan Ahead of Tense Summit

European Council Lays out Please-All Recovery Plan Ahead of Tense Summit
European Council President Charles Michel attends a debate about EU financing and economic recovery with EU lawmakers at the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium, on July 8, 2020. (Yves Herman/Reuters)

European Council President Charles Michel on Friday offered concessions to countries across the EU in a plan for the EU’s long-term budget and economic recovery plan, hoping to bridge differences between national leaders when they meet next week.

Michel, who will chair the first face-to-face meeting of European Union leaders since coronavirus lockdowns were lifted, proposed a smaller 2021-27 budget in a bid to make a mass economic stimulus more palatable to thrifty northern countries.

He proposed a long-term EU budget of 1.074 trillion euros (£1.21 trillion)—down from the European Commission’s suggested 1.094 trillion (£1.24 trillion)—and a recovery fund of 750 billion euros for pandemic-hammered economies, with two-thirds in grants and a third in loans.

“The COVID-19 crisis presents Europe with a challenge of historic proportions,” Michel told a news conference.

“We are slowly exiting the acute health crisis. While utmost vigilance is still required on the sanitary situation, the emphasis is now shifting to mitigating the socio-economic damage.”

The COVID-19 pandemic is the latest big challenge for the 27-nation EU after it struggled with a debt crisis a decade ago, mass migration, and then Brexit.

Some leaders have even framed it as existential for the bloc, saying it cannot be seen to fail this time as eurosceptic feeling mounts in countries such as Italy.

The proposal for the seven-year budget is known in Brussels jargon as the “negotiating box”, a complex set of numbers covering spending on areas from support for agriculture to regional development, research, and scholarships.

This is the starting point for negotiations between the 27 national leaders when they meet on July 17-18.

EU summits that involve money are always the most fraught, and sometimes haggling goes into an extra day or two, which is why leaders often pack for a “four-shirt” trip to Brussels.

Although setting the budget—called the multiannual financial framework (MFF)—is an arcane process, the stakes are high because such huge sums are involved.

This time, the negotiations are even more critical and complicated because the leaders will also try to agree on the recovery fund, and member states are trying to trade concessions in one against benefits in the other.

By Gabriela Baczynska and Marine Strauss