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
"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
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
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
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
"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.