EU leaders return for 4th day of marathon Covid fund talks

Brussels, Jul 20 (efe-epa).- European Union leaders on Monday said they were closer to striking consensus on a multi-billion-euro coronavirus recovery fund which has pitted so-called frugal nations against the majority of the bloc.

The extraordinary summit called to green light the post pandemic fund and the EU’s seven-year budget was scheduled to conclude on Saturday evening but dragged on throughout Sunday night as leaders once again failed to reach an agreement.

Arriving for a fresh round of talks Monday afternoon, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said: “After three days and three nights of a negotiation marathon, we’re entering now in the crucial phase but I have the impression that European leaders really want an agreement.

“I am positive for today, we’re not there yet, but things are moving in the right direction.”

Upon his arrival to the Europa building in Brussels Monday, French president Emmanuel Macron said there was a “spirit” of compromise at the negotiating table but added: “Nothing has as of yet been agreed on, so I’m still very cautious.”

German chancellor Angela Merkel said: “After long negotiations we worked out a framework for a possible settlement, it’s a step forward and gives us hope that maybe today we will reach an agreement or that a settlement is possible.”

The European Council had initially proposed a recovery fund worth 750 billion euros ($857 billion), some 500 billion euros of which would be granted as direct aid with the remaining 250 billion euros offered as loans.

The sum was first proposed by France and Germany and backed by southern European states like Spain and Italy, who have called for an ambitious recovery without the austerity measures imposed during the 2008/09 financial crisis.

The so-called frugal four member states, Austria, the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark — joined by Finland on Sunday — reject this plan and propose to cut the fund by 50 billion euros to 700 billion, and that 350 billion be given as direct aid and the remaining amount in grants.

They are also calling for an increase in the rebate in their annual contribution to the EU budget.

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