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EU leaders meet ahead of crunch summit to paper over the cracks of COVID recovery plan

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel, left, welcomes Italian Prime Minister Guiseppe Conte, right, for a meeting at the German government's guest house 'Meseberg' in Gransee
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, left, welcomes Italian Prime Minister Guiseppe Conte, right, for a meeting at the German government's guest house 'Meseberg' in Gransee   -   Copyright  Tobias Schwarz/AFP
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Marathon rounds of meetings are taking place between EU leaders, but they are still worlds apart on the coronavirus recovery.

The German Chancellor Angela Merkel met with Italian premier Guiseppe Conte on Monday, ahead of the EU summit on Friday, but said that the positions of the member states remain apart. Yet she urged her counterparts to consider the bigger picture.

"The task is huge and therefore the answer must be big. And you can't commit yourself to every detail in advance. But it must be a special effort that makes it clear that Europe wants to stick together in this difficult hour. This has a political dimension beyond the figures."

It was a position echoed by Conte, whose country has seen the highest number of deaths in the EU from the COVID-19 pandemic and has been brought to its knees economically.

"This is the time for responsibility, this is the time for solidarity. We must keep the political ambition high. We must not divide on nationalistic visions, because Europe must offer solutions to its citizens, not illusions and fears," Conte told reporters.

While Italy and Germany are largely on the same page. The Dutch prime minister, part of the so-called frugal four countries (Austria, Denmark, Netherlands, Sweden), oppose the current trillion-euro recovery plan as it entails shared debt for the first time.

Meetings continue throughout the week, with Merkel meeting with the Spanish premier on Tuesday. European Council president Charles Michel updated his weekly agenda with multiple phone calls with EU leaders.

Unanimity is required for the plan to get off the ground.