European Union leaders gathered in Brussels on Friday as they began discussions on the unprecedented 750 billion euros recovery fund for economies hit hardest by the coronavirus pandemic. Mark Rutte issued a brusing rebuke to his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron as he spoke to reporters on his way into the summit. The Dutch Prime Minister slapped down France’s demands that the Netherlands give up its rebate demands and continue to pay “off the charts” into Brussels’ coffers.
Bloomberg asked Mr Rutte: “Are you going to push for your rebates?
“Emmanuel Macron has said he didn’t want a Europe of rebates, that it’s not a good idea.”
Mr Rutte hit back: “Well, I don’t like a Europe where the Netherlands is a net payer and it’s almost off the charts and you cannot even see us anymore!”
Officials inside the crunch summit in Brussels revealed last night that the so-called Frugal Four – a camp of wealthy northern states led by the Netherlands – had “dug in” over their concerns.
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According to the insiders, the Dutch and other northern states refused to back down on access to the recovery fund, against Germany, France, southern nations Italy and Spain, and eastern European states.
The proposals under discussion include the EU’s seven-year budget of more than 1 trillion euros and the recovery fund worth €750bn that will be funnelled mostly to Mediterranean countries worst affected by the pandemic.
The Netherlands wants countries receiving EU support from the fund to agree to reforms in their labour markets and pension systems.
Mr Rutte also told reporters at the summit: “We must come out of this meeting with a guarantee that reforms will take place in countries that are lagging behind.
An EU official said Mr Rutte demanded that one country could block payouts from the fund if member states backslide on reform.
Poland’s Mateusz Morawiecki was grim in his reading of the summit, tweeting last night that EU leaders were divided across several different issues.
He said it was “highly probable” that they would fail to reach a deal on Saturday or even on Sunday if the summit drags past its scheduled two days.
When she arrived at the EU on Saturday morning, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said: “The stakes couldn’t be higher. The whole world is watching us.”