Von der Leyen dampens expectations for upcoming virus aid summit

In an interview to Handelsblatt newspaper, she admits there are still frictions between Member States

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is not getting her hopes up that a special summit next month will find a compromise on the multibillion-euro post-pandemic reconstruction plan.

"We'll see whether we can reach an agreement on the first attempt," she told the Handelsblatt newspaper on Saturday, adding that a second summit on the €750bn programme may be necessary for EU leaders to find a compromise in the negotiations.

The recovery plan is being negotiated alongside the medium-term EU budget, for which the commission foresees €1.1trn in spending between 2021 and 2027. The special summit on the issue is scheduled for 17 and 18 July.

During a video conference last week, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and colleagues voiced their criticisms of the Commission's proposal. Countries such as the Netherlands, for example, do not want EU aid money handed out in the form of non-repayable grants, while Germany criticises the criteria for fund allocation, among other things.

"Highly indebted Member States, such as Italy, should not be strangled by ever-increasing interest burdens," von der Leyen told the Handelsblatt, justifying the planned allocations of subsidies.

"At the same time, countries such as the Netherlands were within their rights to demand the money be linked to reform requirements," she added.

Von der Leyen's words are being published mere days after British media signalled that EU Treaty regulations may ban her ambitious plan to win the support of member states for her coronavirus recovery fund developed to save the eurozone from the next financial crisis. Article 125 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union says that neither the EU, nor individual member states can be liable for the debts of other governments. So-called debt mutualisation is therefore not allowed.

"The EU are headed towards a fiscal union with this idea of a bailout of over €500bn which is actually banned in their own treaty. The Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union says the European Union shouldn't be borrowing this vast sum of money," Brexiteer Alice Grant told Express.

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