The ‘frugal’ pulse taken to the extreme triggered more than one alarm in the final stretch of the second day of the European summit that, at press time, continued without agreement. It was a day of ups and downs -inherent to any negotiation- in which the possibility that President Charles Michel was forced to present a new negotiation proposal after the first one, revealed to the Twenty-seven at about Eleven in the morning, did not finish curdling in an endless succession of bilateral meetings and meetings between selected groups of leaders.
Because yes, this Saturday was the day of discussions in a reduced format. Almost nine hours in a row in offices and terraces of the Europa Building and the national embassies. The underlying problem? The same as on Friday, when the leaders’ meeting had to be interrupted after 11:30 pm because the atmosphere had “soured” (according to the label used by the Dutch Mark Rutte). The same problem as in the past few weeks and even months. That there was not enough rapprochement with the Netherlands, Austria, Sweden or Denmark.
And that was even when the touches Michel made in the early morning already met his demands. The first, the recovery fund, although maintaining the same size (750,000 million euros), spent 50,000 million from the subsidies part to the credits part. Result: _450,000 million, the first; 300,000 seconds.
The document also reinforced the control mechanisms through what it defined as an “emergency brake”, in practice giving them the key to the safe, that is, the possibility of blocking aid if the applicant did not comply with the conditions. And it was added as a third ‘pre-benefit’ a greater increase in compensation to richer countries (checks that balance the difference between what they contribute to the budget and what they receive).
As nuances, the snip of 50,000 million was partially offset by 15,000 million more non-refundable transfers in the Recovery and Resilience Mechanism, one of the core chapters of the Fund. Greater control did not make the option of each national plan unanimously authorized so clear, the key requirement of The Hague. It did establish a procedure according to which three days are given for any government to raise its doubts (and denounce) about the ‘project x’ of its partner. It would do well in a meeting of ministers of Economy and Finance (Ecofin), or directly in a meeting of leaders.
And when it comes to offsets or ‘rebates’, neither The Hague nor Berlin would see one more hard. But Denmark, Austria and Sweden did, since they went on to benefit from 222, 287 and 823 million, respectively, according to that negotiating proposal.
From “good foundation” to more
By mid-afternoon, the ‘frugal’ spoke of “a good basis for negotiation.” And Spain gave a kind of ‘yes, but no’. “Positive that the total amount of the Fund is maintained and that the Instrument for Recovery and Resilience is strengthened”, but “governance continues to be an obstacle”, he warned.
Meanwhile, Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron in the front row shared the arbitration. «France and Germany are more aligned than ever. The president and the chancellor conduct all the conversations with their counterparts together and ensure that the ambition of their joint initiative on May 18 is preserved, “said European diplomatic sources.
But, bilaterally, it became clear that the Netherlands maintained its pressure. The cut of 50,000 million seemed insufficient to him and along with the other austere, he asked for more. Furthermore, it continued to “insist on unanimity” as a condition in any of the proposed conclaves (Ecofin or the European Council). So at the stroke of seven o’clock in the afternoon, Giussepe Conte, in an institutional video, spoke openly of “stagnant negotiation”; of “shock” with Holland and the rest of frugal. “It is being more complicated than expected,” he added. And a direct attack: in that club “they do not share the need for such a substantial response, especially in subsidies. Also questioning loans.
The pit that pivoted as part of the latest onslaught in The Hague attacked the Recovery and Resilience chapter and was measured at just over € 150 billion._The funny (or illustrative) thing is that on the ‘frugal’ side, the Austrian Sebastian Kurz , in another institutional message said that the dispute was “on the way”. No public pronouncement by Pedro Sánchez.
Although from the Spanish delegation the approach was not to go as well as its Italian ally. The negotiation “is not stagnant,” they corrected. Madrid maintained the rejection of unanimity on the governance of the fund, but the global package (recovery plan and budget, totaling 1.8 trillion) in the negotiation were “playing different tricks”. And so, in the give and take, an idea began to gain strength. The summit that was scheduled for two days (this Saturday was the last a priori) was going to gobble up the entire weekend.
At nine o’clock at night, after eight hours of meetings in restricted groups, the plenary session resumed. The Twenty-seven met again for dinner (they had only seen each other all day just an hour and a half). One last jerk until dawn? It was in the air. The positive? The effort. The accommodation reservations, yes, extended to Sunday.