BERLIN (AP) – Leaders from Germany and France said on Monday that they will use their influence as the European Union superpower to help negotiate a swift agreement on a coronavirus recovery package for the block of 27 countries that no country is leaving behind.
During their first face-to-face meeting since the start of the pandemic, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron emphasized their determination to work together to try to get Europe’s economies back on track as Germany’s six-month rotation takes over EU presidency on 1 July.
As early as May, Merkel and Macron jointly proposed to establish a one-time recovery fund of EUR 500 billion ($ 561 billion) to be replenished through EU shared loans.
That proposal was extended by the European Commission, which proposed plans for a EUR 750 billion fund consisting mainly of grants. However, there is resistance from some countries that are against subsidies and are reluctant to spend money without obligation.
Merkel told reporters at a joint press conference with Macron in a German government villa outside Berlin that they did not expect their proposal to be adopted word for word, but that it indicates their direction.
“Through our joint proposal for a recovery fund, we have made it clear that Germany and France want to play a role together in the coming months that makes it clear that Europe is our future,” Merkel said.
“Expectations are high and we know that Europe is not necessarily united if Germany and France are united. But if Germany and France disagree, then that does not speak well for the unity of Europe. ”
Macron called the virus crisis and its economic and social consequences “a moment of truth” for Europe.
“We can turn this moment of truth into a moment of success,” he said, stressing the need for a European agreement on an economic recovery plan.
“We will do everything we can with the chancellor to conclude a budget agreement in July,” he said.
Macron reiterated that EU action should include debt distribution and a € 500 billion package of grants to the regions most affected by the virus crisis.
He also called on the EU to strengthen its sovereignty in a wide range of areas, including climate issues, the digital economy, food, health, industry and security.
The virus crisis revealed Europe’s vulnerability and dependence, he said.
The group of anti-subsidy countries, the so-called “Frugal Four” – Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden – are benefiting more from the strength of the EU internal market than the recovery will cost them, he argued.
“It is not in their interest to see some members … being affected by the crisis,” he said.
Merkel said that any form of the final recovery package “should be significant”.
“It should remain a fund that helps those countries that have been hit much harder by the crisis,” she said.
“Of course there is still a lot of resistance to be overcome, but I think it is very important for many states that are still skeptical today that we get through the crisis together.”
Sylvie Corbet reported from Paris.
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