In the 70-year history of the European project, never before has such fragmentation been exhibited in Brussels as has become apparent after these last three days of marathon and unsuccessful negotiations. The “summit of truth” has faced a cruel bath of reality, that of see themselves unable to get ahead this weekend the long-awaited recovery fund that would help rescue from the economic suffocation that the coronavirus has caused in the countries of the South, with Spain and Italy as the most punished States.
Not even having this time on her side the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, formerly known for being the great advocate of austerity during the 2008 financial crisis, served to assert the first word that gives meaning to the EU: union. The extraordinary European Council, the first in which the leaders of the Twenty-Seven met again after the outbreak of the pandemic and was scheduled to end on Saturday, became an absolute pulse, with the so-called ‘frugal’ countries as the great ‘executioners’ of the South.
Austria, Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands, at the head, were in charge of making it very clear that community cohesion is now more than ever a rare commodity in the European institutions. It does not matter that the urgency is pressing and that criticism for its lack of solidarity threatens to raise shadows of disintegration around the European project. None of the ‘frugal’ wanted to give their arm to twist or yield whole in exchange for the agreement.
“We realize that there are major problems in the South and we want to help them too, but we want them to implement the necessary reforms,” the Dutch Prime Minister reiterated yesterday, Mark Rutte, who has emerged these days as the ‘black beast’ of negotiation. The President of the Netherlands boasted that this time his voice was heard and he was not alone. In fact, with the support of the rest of the ‘frugal’, he asked to cut the total amount of the fund by 50,000 million, up to 700,000 million, of which half would be grants and the other, loans.
In this fight of David – the small countries that defend austerity – against Goliath – the great powers of the EU, with Germany, France, Italy and Spain at the top – he only won the division. Without forgetting the frustration and despair, like when Saturday night Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron abandoned the negotiation. “They will flee and we will see each other the next day. Sometimes they are very difficult conversations, “was what Rutte thought, as he told reporters yesterday.
The proof that the EU is at a critical moment and totally elusive to the unity of action were the impressions that the Luxembourg Prime Minister, Xavier Bettel, transmitted after the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, ordered a recess after seeing in a dead end the dialogue by the castled positions. “I have rarely seen positions so diametrically opposed in seven years at many points, “Bettel acknowledged. Meanwhile, the accusations rained down on the “frugal” of trying to drown the countries of the South so as not to lose any privilege.
As if that were not enough, in the diplomatic struggle to try to curdle a proposal that would satisfy all member states regarding the post-pandemic recovery plan, another element of discord arose. Once again, the figure of Rutte came to light when the Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orban accused “the Dutch guy” of the blockade in the negotiations for asking for more control over the plan’s aid and, above all, for imposing conditions related to the rule of law to receive financing.
“I don’t know what the Dutch Prime Minister hates me for”Orban snapped at the press in Brussels. It was just one more anecdote about the disunity and disagreement of the European family.