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European leaders face tough negotiations on recovery deal

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European Union leaders acknowledged Friday they are about as far apart from reaching a deal on an unprecedented 1.85 trillion euro ($2.1 trillion) EU budget and virus recovery fund as the seating distance imposed upon them for health reasons at their summit center.

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“The differences are still very, very big and so I cant predict whether we will achieve a result this time,” said German Chancellor Angela Merkel upon arriving at the Europa summit site. “So I expect very, very difficult negotiations.”

The challenges facing the 27 EU leaders — some of whom arrived masked, some unmasked — are formidable. Their bloc is suffering through the worst recession in its history and member states are fighting over who should pay the most to help other countries and which nations should get the most to turn around their battered economies.

French President Emmanuel Macron led the early negotiations, arriving Thursday and using the pre-summit hours to meet with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, a stringent budget hardliner and considered one of the biggest obstacles to reaching a deal at the two-day meeting.

“I am not optimistic, but you never know. Nobody wants another meeting,” said Rutte.

Macron underscored the importance of the challenge. “The coming hours will be absolutely decisive,” he said. “It is our project Europe that is at stake.”

What is slated as a two-day summit could go even longer, if necessary, to bridge the differences between leaders.

“We want a result and we will continue working until we get that result,” if need be until Sunday, said Latvian Prime Minister Arturs Karins upon arrival. No early breakthroughs in pre-summit talks were reported.

Challenges face EU leaders in push for recovery plan

“The crisis brought about by this pandemic, with all of its economic and social consequences, is the most severe we have had to face since the Second World War,” European Council President and summit host Charles Michel said late Thursday.

The urgency is such that the leaders have ended a string of coronavirus-enforced videoconference summits and are meeting in person for the first time since the pandemic began its devastating sweep around the globe.

The usual summit venue, an intimate room high up in the urn-shaped Europa center, was deemed too snug to be safe and instead the leaders have been sent down to meeting room EBS-5, whose 850 square meters (9,150 square feet) normally fits 330 people.

Delegations will be cut to a minimum, leaving leaders more dependent on their own knowledge of complicated dossiers. It should put a smile on the face of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has been in office for 15 years and seen countless leaders come and go.

Since the pandemic struck, she is seen as a safe pair of hands to lead her country through the crisis and now that Germany holds the rotating six-month EU presidency her stature will be even greater at the summit. And throw in that she is celebrating her 66th birthday on Friday.

There may be cake but it will hardly be a cakewalk for Merkel.

The members were already fighting bitterly over the seven-year, 1-trillion-euro EU budget when COVID-19 was still a local story in Wuhan,Read More – Source

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