End of the EU? Mammoth coronavirus rescue package revealing deep 'divisions' in Brussels


End of the EU? Mammoth coronavirus rescue package revealing deep 'divisions' in Brussels

Xavier Bettel said in his seven years as Luxembourg's Prime Minister has he "rarely seen such diametrically opposing positions" from the member sta

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Xavier Bettel said in his seven years as Luxembourg’s Prime Minister has he “rarely seen such diametrically opposing positions” from the member states. The bloc’s plan to breathe new life into economies throttled by the coronavirus pandemic hung in the balance on Sunday as leaders quarrelled over how to carve up a vast recovery fund.

Speaking in his doorstep statement, Mr Bettel paid tribute to European Council President Charles Michel for chairing the meeting, whom he said: “I must say… does not have an easy task.

“I’ve rarely seen over seven years such diametrically opposing position on many points.”

He said if European economies cave due to the pressure of the epidemic it will have a ripple effect throughout the bloc.

He said: “It is a moment of solidarity for all of us because if some countries collapse, I believe it can also have repercussions on others.”

Mr Bettel said it was possible for some to have “a right to examine” aspects of governance, but those are decisions “we take together.”

After three days of meetings in Brussels, the 27 EU states are still seeking a compromise on the fund.

As the leaders haggled into the evening over a plan designed to help haul Europe out of its deepest recession since World War Two, diplomats said it was not clear if they would abandon the summit and try again next month, or plough on through the night.

European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde told Reuters it would be better for the EU leaders to agree on an “ambitious” aid package than to have a quick deal at any cost.

READ MORE: EU chaos: Future of Brussels at risk as infighting begins

A group of “frugal” wealthy northern countries have pushed for a smaller recovery fund.

And they have been trying to limit the split between grants and repayable loans, which has underscored the gulf between the EU’s north and south.

By Sunday afternoon, diplomats said the leaders were looking at about €350 billion in grants.
This figure was down from a proposed €500 billion as a possible compromise with the thrifty north, though Italy was opposing conditions which the Netherlands wants attached when the money is disbursed.

One diplomat said: “The volume of grants is make or break.”

There were also differences over a proposed new rule-of-law mechanism that could freeze funding to countries flouting democratic principles, the envoys said.

Hungary, backed by its eurosceptic ally Poland, has threatened to veto the package if its disbursement is made dependent on meeting conditions on upholding democracy that are sought by more liberal states in the bloc’s north and west.

Mr Bettel said such conditions were needed to safeguard democratic values that were the backbone of the EU.

He said: “Because Europe is not a grocery where you can choose what you want.

“Europe is, above all, the values that we protect.”