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EU leaders nudge towards joint coronavirus recovery aid

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – European Union leaders edged forward on Thursday towards joint financing of an economic recovery after the coronavirus pandemic by agreeing to ask the European Commission to work out the details of such common support, EU sources said.

Diplomatic sources following the video-conference of the bloc’s 27 leaders said the discussion was less acrimonious than a month ago.

But the same divisions were clearly expressed with four “frugal” EU countries — Austria, Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands — opposing recovery aid through grants.

The broader northern camp, which also includes Germany, spoke in favour of linking a new Recovery Fund to the bloc’s next long-term budget for 2021-27, the sources said.

On the other side of the divide was Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, who told his peers, according to an EU official:

“The amount of the Recovery Fund should be 1.5 trillion (euros) and provide grants to member states. Grants are essential to preserve the single market, a level playing field, and to ensure a symmetric response to an asymmetric shock.”

One EU diplomat said: “They edged forward without any real meeting of the minds. It’s up to the Commission now to square the circle.”

(Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska, Francesco Guarascio, Robin Emmott)