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A Moment of Truth: EU Leaders Gather to Haggle Over Recovery Plan

BRUSSELS/PARIS—European Union leaders gathered on Friday for crunch summit talks on a multi-billion-euro plan to breathe life into their economies, their first face-to-face summit since the coronavirus pandemic plunged the bloc into its latest crisis.

“It is a moment of truth and ambition for Europe,” French President Emmanuel Macron said as he arrived for the meeting of 27 leaders in Brussels after weeks of tension over the scale and scope of the rescue fund.

“It is our European project that is at stake here. I am confident but cautious.”

France's President Emmanuel Macron
Frances President Emmanuel Macron arrives for the first face-to-face EU summit since the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Brussels, Belgium, on July 17, 2020. (Francisco Seco/Pool via Reuters)

Dutch opposition and a threat of a Hungarian veto weigh on chances for a deal on the EUs 2021-27 budget, envisaged at slightly above 1 trillion euros ($1.1 trillion), and an attached new recovery fund worth 750 billion euros meant to help rebuild the southern economies affected the most by the crisis.

The 27 EU heads will meet in a room equipped with hand sanitisers, and disinfected headsets to provide translation, in the Brussels EU headquarters, which will unusually be devoid of journalists, as a health precaution.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel
German Chancellor Angela Merkel
German Chancellor Angela Merkel makes a statement as she arrives for the first face-to-face EU summit since the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Brussels, Belgium, on July 17, 2020. (Francisco Seco/Pool via Reuters)

The summit is scheduled to run for two days, though officials said it could spill into Sunday if an agreement remains elusive. Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel told Reuters he had brought an extra set of clothes just in case.

The stakes are high with EU economies in free fall, immediate relief measures such as short-time work schemes running out this summer and paving the way for what some fear will be an autumn of deep economic malaise and discontent.

That would risk damaging the EU, already struggling with the protracted saga of Brexit and bruised by past crises, from the financial meltdown to migration feuds.

“Everybody knows that autumn will be difficult,” said a senior government official in one EU state. “It would be really good for Europe to send a signal to all that we are united.”

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