European Union members were debating Friday a multi-billion-dollar economic recovery package to help the 27 member nations pull out of the downturn – the worst since the Great Depression - that resulted from efforts to fight the spread of COVID-19.
Friday's meeting – held virtually - is the first step in discussions that could culminate with a deal in July if member states overcome their differences. Members also discussed the latest version of the European Commission's plan for a $1.2 trillion, seven-year budget, which includes an $825 billion recovery fund.
Ahead of the meeting, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen urged support of the plan, saying, “This is a chance Europe cannot afford to miss,” adding it will provide economic security for Europe well into the future.
She said the plan does not only help countries hardest hit by the coronavirus, but those hit indirectly as well, because of lockdowns and the loss of commerce.
But the EU leaders are sharply divided on the plan. A group of countries known as the Frugal Four - the Netherlands, Denmark, Austria and Sweden – which are averse to spending and want to see support given out as loans that have to be paid back instead of grants.
Several EU officials and diplomats said the goal of Friday’s virtual meeting was to have an initial discussion on the plan and, as one diplomat put it, “take the temperature” of the members before serious negotiations begin next month.