The French President is said to have claimed failure to reach a quick agreement over the bloc’s pandemic rescue fund could see talks complicated by trade negotiations with Britain. He added that market sensitives required EU leaders to accelerate the process towards a face-to-face showdown next month. Brussels sources said the Frenchman said the fund must include at least €500 billion in grants made available to pandemic-stricken industries and regions.
Mr Macron’s efforts to broker a deal were echoed by Angela Merkel, who warned EU leaders that they face the worst recession since the Second World War.
The German Chancellor is said to have expressed concern that her EU colleagues hadn’t yet come to terms with the grave situation they find themselves in.
Sources said the veteran leader said the EU faces “very, very difficult times” in the coming months, and should have the recovery fund in place by the summer.
She added that leaders must organise an in-person summit as soon as possible.
Ahead of the video summit, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen pleaded with EU leaders to back her recovery plans.
She said: “This proposal is ambitious and it is balanced.
“I’m convinced that for common success, we must stay focused on the big picture. We must all pull together, we cannot afford any delay.”
Under the German’s blueprint, eurocrats will borrow €500 billion on international markets before distributing the money as cash grants to the worst-hit countries, regions and industries.
A further €250 billion will be dished out in the form of low-cost loans.
The fund will leave the bloc’s taxpayers saddled with the debt burden of the coronavirus recovery, with the borrowing expected to be paid back over the next 38 years.
The Commission also wants to introduce a series of new EU taxes, including a level on single-use plastics, a digital tax or a tax on multinationals, to help foot the bill.
The so-called “Frugal Four” – Austria, Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands – have questioned whether cash should be distributed in loans and not grants.
Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz said the recovery fund could create a “backdoor” to a debt union.
He said the proposed recovery fund “must not be a backdoor entry into a debt union”.
He added: “There must be a time limit.
“There must also be a discussion about who pays how much, who benefits most and what conditions are attached to aid.”
In a bid to unlock the talks, Mr Macron suggested he could support cash rebates for the biggest contributors to the EU’s long-term budget.
But the French President said he would only back the plan if it is absolutely necessary to get a deal on the recovery plan, according to an EU official.
Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte took aim at the frugal states, insisting the Commission plan is “fair and well balanced it would be a serious mistake to fall below the financial resources already indicated”.
“The combination of loans and grants is also well constructed. This combination will help us make investments and reforms in order to strengthen the convergence and resilience of the whole Union,” he added.
At the start of the video conference, European Parliament President David Sassoli the proposed recovery fund “only scratches the surface of what needs to be done”.
He said MEPs would not support the deal if aid is offered “solely in the form of loans”.
He added: “Time is a luxury we cannot afford. We need to act urgently and courageously, as EU citizens, businesses and economies need an immediate response. Our citizens expect bold action. Now it is time for us to deliver.”