Rocky path ahead for EU recovery fund

This unprecedented money raising effort is about a collective responsibility as President Ursula von der Leyen sees it.

She stated that it was “high time to take the right decision because the cost of not investing in the crisis, will come back manifold in future.”

But her pitch was just the start of what will take a huge effort by the Commission to get all member states on side, especially as the Commission wants this agreed by leaders at the next EU summit in three weeks time.

After a round robin of calls to European diplomats this afternoon, I got a clear sense that there’s not yet an overall majority in favour.

Southern Mediterranean countries such as Portugal, Spain, Greece and Italy have all indicated initial support. One Italian diplomat told me that if the proposal was agreed, Italy may be eligible for grants accounting for up to 5% of the country’s GDP, to kickstart their post pandemic economy.

There are many countries, including Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria and Lithuania that won’t commit either way, until they’ve read the small print of the plans. “With these things, the devil is often in the detail, so this will take several days of legal analysis”, one Bulgarian official told me.

There is well publicised opposition from the self proclaimed ‘frugal four’ consisting of Austria, Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands. An Austrian diplomat told me that it was “encouraging to hear that 250 billion euros would be raised through loans” but suggested that the 500 billion euros in grants were a “non starter” at this point.

Brexit appears to have brought together this ‘thrifty’ alliance, which formed in 2018. As well as requesting that loans are handed out instead of grants, they do not want to increase the size of their budget contributions, in order to fill the gap left behind by the UK’s exit.

The feeling here in Brussels is that it will need to be a face to face meeting between leaders to forge a compromise, because video-conferencing is a poor substitute for fiscal diplomacy. And that is not likely to happen until internal borders are reopened sometime over the summer.

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