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French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have never been this close on EU issues as they fight against the so-called northern European frugal four led by Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte. Updating Times Radio listeners on the ongoing EU Summit on the coronavirus recovery fund set to save the freefalling southern economies of the Brussels bloc, Paris correspondent Charles Bremner described the last three days of talks between the EU27 as the usual “psychodrama” making the Franco-German alliance stronger at every clash.
Mr Bremner claimed that whilst the UK is missing the summit as it is no longer a member of the EU, the French President did not miss the chance to use the British example as a way of criticising Mr Rutte during the talks.
He said: “As often happens when budgets are in discussion in Brussels there is great disagreement.
“This time, the British are not there to play the awkward squad as they did for so long.
“But President Macron accused the Dutch of behaving like the British. He told Mark Rutte he was behaving like David Cameron last night.
“What’s happening is that there is a group of countries led by the Dutch, which is behaving in what the French consider being a mean way. These are the so-called frugal countries and they are opposed to giving a large chunk of this money as a freehand out.”
He added: “What is unusual this time is that France and Germany are working very closely together.
“They’ve been at loggerheads over a number of issues over the years but the old Franco-German moto has spatted into life.
“Especially since German Chancellor Angela Merkel has accepted the idea that can an idea of euro bonds, this was such a taboo during the euro crisis.
“This is raising money on the markets in the name of the European Union rather than individual nations.
“Therefore, we are expecting some form of compromise later today, possibly in the early hours of tomorrow morning.”
In the small hours of Monday, President Macron lost patience with the “sterile blockages” of the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark and Austria, later joined by Finland, banging his fist on the table, one diplomat said.
Another diplomat confirmed the outburst, saying tensions rose until Belgium’s Prime Minister Sophie Wilmes called for calm.
European Council President Charles Michel earlier urged the 27 leaders to achieve “mission impossible”, reminding them that more than 600,000 people had now died from COVID-19 around the world.
That appeared to edge towards a potential breakthrough.
“We are not there yet, things can still fall apart. But it looks a bit more hopeful than at the times where I thought last night that it was over,” Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said.
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Within the 750 billion euro recovery fund, 390 billion euros could be considered as non-repayable grants, diplomats said, a compromise between the 350 billion level of the five “frugals” and the 400 billion euros demanded by France and Germany.
There was no immediate clarity on whether a deal was in the making, but Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz told ORF radio he was satisfied with the negotiations.
“It was definitely the best decision that the group of the frugals…has been formed,” Kurz said. “There were the four of us, now there are five of us. These are all small countries, which alone would have no weight at all.”
Issues over tying payouts to economic and democratic reforms were still to be resolved, although Spain signalled willingness to put up with some conditions being attached to aid.
“We don’t reject conditionality,” Foreign Minister Arancha Gonzalez Laya told Cadena SER radio. “We need a basis that gives confidence to us and to our partners.”
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