Ahead of a crunch European summit in Brussels, Mr Rutte signalled he was not willing to drop his demands for economic reforms as the price for accessing the proposed €750 billion recovery fund. He told reporters: “I’m not optimistic, but you never know.” The Netherlands wants countries receiving EU aid to agree to reforms in their labour markets and pensions systems before being allowed access to the cash being made available from pandemic-stricken industries and regions.
Mr Rutte is leading the opposition alongside other fiscally conservative northern member states.
The so-called “Frugal Four” – Austria, Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands – have called for political strings to be attached to Ursula von der Leyen’s proposed fund.
Meeting for the first time since the pandemic exploded across the Continent, EU leaders will discuss proposals for a €1.074 trillion seven-year budget and the recovery fund for the worst-hit regions and industries.
Under the scheme, the EU would borrow on the international markets in order to hand out €500 billion in grants and a further €250 billion in low-cost loans.
Mr Rutte wants non-repayable funds to be scrapped in favour of a system based entirely on loans.
He said: “There are many issues on the table, one of them is, of course, the mix of grants and loans, the MFF itself…
“At the end of the day I have a position that is much worse than they already have… But there is a reason for all of this. We need a strong Europe in an unstable world.”
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