EU summit: Angela Merkel 'not optimistic' of coronavirus rescue deal
German Chancellor Angela Merkel was expecting a tough round of negotiations on a multibillion-euro coronavirus recovery plan, at an EU summit in Brussels on Friday.
"We are going into the consultations with a lot of vigor, but I must also say that the differences are still very, very large and I cannot, therefore, predict whether we will be able to reach an agreement this time," she said.
"It would be desirable, but we also have to face reality and we really need a great deal of willingness to compromise if we are to achieve something that is good for people and good for Europe in the face of the pandemic. That is why I expect very, very difficult negotiations."
Other leaders, including Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, echoed Merkel's sentiment and expressed a lack of optimism for the two-day summit.
"I'm not optimistic, but you never know," Rutte told Dutch broadcaster NOS as he arrived in Brussels to negotiate the 27-member bloc's 2021-27 budget and a €750-billion ($856 billion) coronavirus recovery fund.
"I'm not so optimistic ... We think the initial [budget] proposal is interesting, promising," Nauseda told reporters upon arrival.
'Europe is at stake'
Despite the pessimism of some of his counterparts, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said that EU leaders have an obligation to their citizens to reach an agreement on the recovery fund.
"Spain is coming to this summit eager to reach an agreement, to defend logically our national interests on agriculture and also on how we conceive the governance of the recovery fund," Sanchez said.
French President Emmanuel Macron led the early negotiations, arriving Thursday and meeting with Rutte in the pre-summit hours. "The coming hours will be absolutely decisive," said Macron. "It is our European project that is at stake.''
The two-day meeting, which will also see leaders debate the roughly €1-trillion EU budget, could continue for even longer, if necessary.
"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 on Thursday.