German Chancellor Angela Merkel and President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen on Thursday called for a speedy agreement on the coronavirus recovery fund for the European Union.
The two Germans held a joint virtual press conference where they outlined the goals for Germany’s six-month presidency of the EU, which Germany officially took over on Wednesday.
Coronavirus recovery package
“We have an unprecedented crisis and it needs an unprecedented response,” von der Leyen said.
“Every day we lose will see people losing their jobs, companies going bust, the weakening of our economy. Every single day counts,” she said, calling for urgency on the agreement.
The EU is currently in negotiations over an economic stimulus and investment program worth €750 billion to be controversially financed through shared debts.
Von der Leyen said talks in recent weeks had shown there was common ground in many aspects, but that the details were proving difficult.
The heads of state and government of the Member States will discuss the plan on July 17 and July 18, but wide gulfs remain on the volume, financing and type of aid to be distributed.
Merkel said: “I am going to Brussels on July 17 with the will to strike an agreement.”
She said the even if the talks were inconclusive, “there must be an agreement in the course of the summer anyway, I can’t imagine any other option.”
Focus on fighting climate change
Von der Leyen’s plan, which Merkel has thrown her support behind, will mainly come in the form of grants for countries hit hardest by the pandemic such as Italy and Spain.
Merkel stressed that it was important that the response to the crisis was “designed in such a way that it was robust.”
Von der Leyen said the economic bailout package must be used creatively to bolster the EU’s climate change response, improve its digitalization and modernize the single market.
“We have an unprecendendent crisis and it needs an unprecendented response,” she said.
Von der Leyen, Merkel, EU Council President Charles Michel and EU Parliament President David Sassoli will meet on July 8.
Brexit trade deal ‘not at any price’
On Brexit, Merkel said Europe wanted a trade deal with the UK, but “not at any price.”
She said the EU must be prepared for a no-deal outcome.
If the two parties fail to secure an agreement by December or an extension, their trade relationship will return to World Trade Organization defaults with high tariffs and major business disruptions.
EU too German?
In response to question from DW’s Berndt Riegert on whether the the other 26 EU Member States would be worried that the bloc was becoming too German, with both Merkel and von der Leyen at the helm, the two said that being a European is more important than being a national citizen.
Merkel said: “I think if there are two convinced Europeans, then maybe that is even more important. Of course I will not forget my German interests, which we have to bring to the negotiations. But we already know that the presidency is giving us an additional responsibility.”
Von der Leyen said: The good thing is that we have known each other for a long time, we trust each other deeply. And the good thing is that when you know each other very well, you can also speak very efficiently, very plainly, because we know that we can go into the depths in great detail and therefore achieve a lot.”
“I also always remark that this is the beautiful thing about Europe, when you consider that both of us have a very different bibliography, where we spent our childhood and where we grew up, but we are both deeply convinced and we are both deeply European. And that actually reflects the beauty of Europe.”
aw/rs (AFP, dpa, Reuters)