EU Leaders Clash Over Covid Recovery Packages

Viktor Orban

Tensions amongst EU leaders are high following tense and acrimonious negotiations over the terms of a proposed €1.8tn budget and recovery package for the bloc.

Viktor Orbán, the prime minister of Hungary, accused his Dutch counterpart of behaving in a manner he was previously accustomed to when his country was run by communist leadership.

Dutch prime Minister Mark Rutte has insisted that his parliament has to have a say on whether they are willing to take on extra national debt in order for the EU to make cash payments to member states.

Orbán, who was an anti-communist dissident in his youth, responded by accusing Rutte of copying Soviet methods to crush dissent by failing to properly set out the terms on which funds would be blocked.

The first in-person summit between the EU’s 27 heads of state and government for five months has seen progress towards an agreement, but has also exposed deepening divides between the north and the south, as well as between east and west.

European council president Charles Michel, who is chairing the summit, asked leaders at an evening dinner whether they were “capable of building European unity and trust. Or, through a tear, will we present the face of a weak Europe, undermined by mistrust?”

Rutte told reporters that EU leaders were making good progress but warned that negotiations could still fail. “At times it didn’t look good last night, but I feel that on the whole we are making progress,” he said. The summit will reconvene at 4pm central European time on Monday.

The leaders have been locked in debate over the size of the recovery fund for the countries that have been hit hardest by the coronavirus pandemic and the EU’s seven-year budget, known as the multi-financial framework, which is due to start next year.

There are also disagreements over what conditions should be attached to the emergency funding and the balance between grants and loans on offer. The sum agreed by the negotiations will be borrowed from the capital markets by the European commission.