Brussels compromise: does the EU know what it wants?

After a four-day negotiation marathon the EU summit produced a result: of the 750 billion euros allocated to coronavirus recovery schemes, only 390 instead of the initially proposed 500 billion are to be distributed in the form of grants, while the rest will be paid out in loans. Moreover, payments from the EU budget will continue to be only loosely subject to adherence to rule-of-law criteria. But behind all the compromises commentators make out some clear decisions.

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Le Monde (FR) /

A breakthrough for the environment

Writing in Le Monde, economist Simone Tagliapietra sees a clear commitment to environmental protection:

“The 1,800 billion represents not only an ambitious recovery plan, but also the most environmentally friendly reconstruction plan worldwide. Europe's leaders have included the goal of spending 30 percent of EU funding on the climate. This means that between 2021 and 2027, a total of around 547 billion euros of EU money will be made available for the ecological transition across the entire continent. This sum is significant, as it accounts for about a quarter of the investments needed to pursue the goals of the European Green Deal and could draw additional investments from governments and the private sector.”

La Tribune de Genève (CH) /

A clear step towards federalism

Author Jean-Noël Cuénod comments on his blog with La Tribune de Genève:

“We have a supranational body that borrows 750 billion euros on the financial markets on its own behalf and distributes them among the member states. ... A European tax has been introduced. And the states of the EU will have to adhere to certain rules, including respect for the rule of law. This is not yet a qualitative leap towards federalism, but it's a step in that direction. And now that we've come this far it will be hard to backtrack. Sooner or later a transfer of powers to the federal level will have to be considered, so that the countries of Europe will have the clout to stand up to the Chinese, Russian, and US empires - especially now that the latter has become an adversary (and not just since Trump took office).” (UA) /

Grist to the mill of the right

In the long term the agreement will lead to social unrest, suspects:

“The situation cannot be described as fair. Some countries are being burdened with debts that weigh down on their citizens, others are getting discounts and benefits. This will lead to protests and strengthen right-wing forces in Europe. … The adoption of the new budget shows only one thing: the Europeans themselves have paved the way for future protest movements, further division and a shift to the right.”

Primorske novice (SI) /

A fair compromise

The result offers something for everyone, explains Primorske novice:

“Each of the 27 EU leaders could go back home and explain what a favourable compromise they had achieved. For example, smaller countries soft-pedalled on grants, the southern countries received a large total amount of aid, and the Visegrád Group backed down on its demands regarding respect for the rule of law as a condition for the disbursement of financial aid. Slovenia, too, has done quite well in squaring the circle, and will receive a handsome sum. Now it is up to each and every one of us to see what we do with this money.”

Expresso (PT) /

Under the yoke of the little brakemen

Journalist Daniel Oliveira in Expresso, on the other hand, is not at all satisfied with the deal:

“What was agreed this weekend is worse than no agreement at all and should have been blocked by the Council until further notice. ... It was another step towards the destruction of the European project. But one thing has been proven: four countries can impose their will on Germany and France. And they clearly want a lot. The Netherlands, by far the biggest beneficiary of the single market and the euro, has constructed a narrative that no longer allows public opinion to accept any kind of European solidarity. And they have managed to defeat the Franco-German axis.”

Tages-Anzeiger (CH) /

Pyrrhic victory for the frugal four

The Tages-Anzeiger sees certain flaws in the agreement:

“For example, the fact that an agreement on the seven-year budget had to be secured at the last minute through cuts in research, research programmes, the climate fund and healthcare, of all things. The frugal four, who wanted to contribute less, have achieved a Pyrrhic victory. The traditional policy areas such as agriculture and the structural funds, where the majority of financing still goes, were spared at the expense of investments in the future. Here the EU has fallen far short of its objectives. A clear indication of the downside of the agreement is that Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki are also patting themselves on the back after the marathon summit. The planned rule-of-law mechanism was considerably watered down during the long nights of negotiation.”

Le Soir (BE) /

EU remains a purely economic union

The result is sobering for those who had hoped for a new step towards EU integration, Le Soir sighs:

“With his statement that he 'did not come to Brussels to make friends and go to their birthdays every year', Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte expressed the idea that economic pragmatism triumphs over friendship between peoples and even over a sense of community. What he wanted to stress is that the solidarity that comes free of charge in times of crisis must remain the exception and not the rule. It has also been demonstrated that it's possible for the 'frugal' countries to organise resistance to any thoroughgoing changes to the EU.”

De Telegraaf (NL) /

Too little pressure on anti-reformers

The leader of the "frugal four" Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte had insisted that recipient states be forced to implement reforms in return for grants. But in the current deal, the "emergency brake" is ineffective as a means of exerting pressure, criticises De Telegraaf:

“There can be no talk of firm guarantees here. ... If one or more member states consider that a country is deviating from the agreed reforms, the matter can - in extreme cases - be submitted to the European Council. Then the heads of government must deal with it. The EU Commission doesn't decide on paying out sums until the European Council has discussed the issue 'exhaustively'. This means that in special cases the payment can be blocked only for a limited period at most. That's not much of a threat.”

Avvenire (IT) /

White smoke with shades of grey

The decision of this European "conclave" is historic, Avvenire comments in delight, but the paper also has words of criticism:

“With the adoption of the plan, a dam has come down. But there were also attempts to build new small or large 'walls'. ... The first concerns the so-called 'brake' that individual member states can apply if they feel that the beneficiaries of the fund are not implementing the reforms announced and agreed upon. ... The other obstacle to a Union that is closer to its citizens is the attitude of the so-called 'frugal' countries - the Netherlands, Austria, Sweden, Denmark and Finland. Their young leaders don't seem to have the slightest interest in the idea of a federal or at least a more united Europe, but they are certainly interested in defending their own national interests.”

Frankfurter Rundschau (DE) /

European policy means compromises

The Frankfurter Rundschau pays tribute to what the summit has achieved:

“It remains a programme of unprecedented format in European history. Merkel apparently allowed herself be overruled; she would have preferred to send out a stronger signal. But who says that this is not also part of the big game? No one will be able to say afterwards whether bargaining chips were not built into all the sums right from the start. But two things are certain. Firstly: never before has so much money been moved in the EU for a jointly defined purpose. And secondly, European policy cannot be defined other than by compromise. ... It is not the dispute in Brussels that is remarkable but the fact that again and again agreements are reached at the European level.”

Aftonbladet (SE) /

Also a success for Sweden

Stefan Lövfen did not leave the field without putting up a fight at the summit, Aftonbladet writes in defence of the Stockholm government:

“A compromise means that nobody leaves the negotiations completely satisfied, and clearly this is also true for Sweden. The grants part of the crisis package will be extensive. ... Sweden had no realistic prospects in the negotiations other than pushing for this part to be kept small. ... Simple loans were never a realistic scenario given the strong powers - including France and Italy - that wanted to see much of the package take the form of grants. ... So the fact that Sweden has set an example and helped to reduce the amount to be distributed in grants can be seen as a success.”

Habertürk (TR) /

Rule of law as a bargaining chip

Yet again, Hungary and Poland got everything they wanted at the summit, Habertürk comments:

“The populist governments in Hungary and Poland continue to challenge the EU criteria. During the reconstruction and budget talks, the EU Commission demanded that countries that receive aid show respect for the fundamental rights and freedoms of their citizens and adhere to the principles of the rule of law. This was aimed primarily at Hungary and Poland. ... ... But in the end their resistance was successful. And after even the members from the north who had originally stressed the principles of the rule of law so strongly put them on the back burner, a flimsy compromise was reached.”

Index (HU) /

A setback for Orbán

According to Index, however, in the end not all the Hungarian prime minister's wishes were fulfilled:

“Although Viktor Orbán wanted to have the rule of law criteria removed, they can still be found in the final text of the budget agreement. However - as was to be expected - the wording is much weaker in this document than in the original draft. The voting rules for defining sanctions have been changed to make it more difficult to implement them from a political point of view.”

Wiener Zeitung (AT) /

France and Germny need a new style of leadership

The Wiener Zeitung believes the summit has brought valuable insights:

“First of all, the hope that with the British withdrawal the disruptive nay-sayer is leaving the Union has proved to be mistaken. For the spirit of London is still present in Brussels, embodied by the 'frugal five' on matters of budget, redistribution and competition, and embodied by the Poles, Balts and Czechs when it comes to building an EU security architecture independent of the US. Secondly, the pressure for unanimity requires a different kind of leadership from Germany and France. Instead of agreeing on a common line in advance, the two would have to work towards a broader consensus on controversial issues. This, however, would mean a reinterpretation of the role of the Franco-German tandem - and would call into question France's self-image in particular.”