By John Chalmers
BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel said on Thursday that he had brought a spare shirt to Brussels for the upcoming European Union summit just in case an extra day is needed to clinch a deal on a multi-billion-euro recovery fund for the bloc’s economies.
Xavier Bettel said it was critical for the EU’s 27 member states to demonstrate solidarity when they gather for their two-day meeting on Friday because if one country collapses due to the damage from the coronavirus crisis it will affect them all.
“Solidarity is in the interest of all of us,” Bettel told Reuters in an interview. “If Italy or Spain collapses because they have an economic crisis and afterwards a social crisis it’s not in the interests of all the other countries.”
The EU leaders will meet face-to-face for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic triggered lockdowns across Europe and plunged the continent into its deepest-ever recession.
Along with talks over the EU’s next seven-year budget, they will also negotiate over a recovery fund of grants and loans worth 750 billion euros ($854 billion) that is designed primarily to prop up southern countries hardest hit by the crisis.
Bettel said he hoped that leaders met in person rather than by video conference, to aid in overcoming differences that have so far stood in the way of an agreement.
The Netherlands leads a group of wealthy northern states that favour loans over grants and wants to be able to veto applications for aid.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has also threatened to block an agreement over a mechanism to freeze funds for states undercutting the rule of law.
Bettel said that if the leaders fail to reach an accord it would be wrong to blame the Netherlands, and while rule of law principles must be discussed at the summit, countries that need recovery funds should not be held hostage to the issue.
Bettel said he would be delighted if the leaders could agree on the fund as a birthday present for German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who will turn 66 on Friday.
However, he said he was doubtful an accord could come so quickly and – recalling how at a previous summit that went on longer than planned he had to wash a shirt in his bathroom – he said he had brought clothes for three days, just in case.
(Reporting by John Chalmers, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)