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EU to Meet to Carve Up $2.1T           07/16 06:22


   BRUSSELS (AP) -- There are limits to videoconferencing. When there is a lot 
of money at stake, people like to look each other in the eye.

   So on Friday, leaders from 27 European Union nations will be meeting 
face-to-face for the first since February despite the dangers of the 
coronavirus pandemic --- simply to try to carve up a potential package of 1.85 
trillion euros ($2.1 trillion) among themselves, and, just as importantly, see 
who will pay in the most.

   In perhaps the first such major meeting of leaders since the COVID-19 
outbreak hit the world, the stakes were just too high to maintain extreme 
social distancing.

   "You can feel the mood, as it were," Germany's Europe minister, Michael 
Roth, said of such flesh-and-blood summits. "I wouldn't claim to be a 
psychologist, but I would say it really does help."

   It had better since five remote video summits so far this year failed at 
bridging the financial gap between rival nations needing to agree on a more 
than 1-trillion-euro budget for the next seven years and a 750-billion-fund to 
allow nations to recover from the coronavirus crisis.

   "It was already clear at Easter when I was calling, the first time, all the 
different capitals that such a decision can only be taken if the leaders, prime 
ministers, heads of state, meet in person in Brussels," EU Budget Commissioner 
Johannes Hahn said.

   French President Emmanuel Macron is already sweeping into town late 
Thursday, eager to get as many encounters in as possible. German Chancellor 
Angela Merkel holds out until the official kickoff time early Friday. Whatever 
happens, it will make for an EU summit unlike any other at the urn-shaped 
Europa headquarters.

   For starters, the cozy meeting room on the top floor, where the leaders have 
clashed at close quarters over everything from Brexit to migration issues, will 
be exchanged for the prosaically-named meeting room EBS-5, where normally 330 
people fit in a space of 850 square meters (9,150 square feet).

   "They will be well spaced" when they go into a restricted session with 
barely a few delegates, deadpanned an EU official preparing the summit.

   There will be no group photo of the leaders like at last December's summit 
because of social distancing requirements.

   Often, the toughest of summits have so-called confessionals where the 
president of the proceedings takes one or more leaders to the side to see where 
they might budge. Other leaders can gather in mini-sessions to defend common 
regional or financial interests.

   It's bound to happen again, but this time, every room which will be used at 
the summit center will be deep cleaned. The main summit room will only use 
filtered, non-recycled air.

   As soon as their vehicles pull up into driveway outside the Europa building, 
the leaders will immediately experience the difference, officials said. Most of 
their delegations will be split off immediately and parked in an adjacent 
building. And instead of a warren of microphones and cameras seeking early 
comment, they will have the option to make a comment to a neutral outlet, no 
questions asked.

   The already byzantine map of the building has been redrawn to avoid 
unexpected crowds and certain elevators for the leaders will be limited to a 
maximum capacity of two.

   At the start of a session, leaders will be urged to mask themselves and 
respect at least 1.5 meters of distance for the informal greetings, often a 
moment when body language gives away how tough a summit will be. Yet if 
Monday's trial run of foreign ministers was anything to go by, discipline was 
often lacking.

   Should the worst happen and a leader suddenly shows symptoms, doctors will 
be on site once he or she is taken out of the room. A nation can't put in a 
replacement, and it can only ask a friendly colleague to vote or speak in its 

   So, even if it will be a true face-to-face meeting, it will be one laden 
with provisos.

   "It doesn't automatically mean that excellent results will be achieved and 
that agreement will be reached quickly," Roth said. "But after all, I am an 

   Others are already looking at an extended summit running even into Sunday, 
with another one possible within two weeks.

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