Fingers crossed in Portugal as EU leaders gather for ‘crunch summit’ in Brussels

Fingers are tightly crossed in Portugal today that the first face-to-face summit of EU leaders in months will manage to agree on a post-coronavirus economic recovery package.

Reports stress the ‘good news’ is that everyone round the table accepts that a common response is needed.

The bad news is that they’re not all agreed on what it should look like.

The ‘frugals’ – the northern European states of Austria, Denmark, Sweden and Holland, and to some extent Finland – are seen as the ‘stones in the shoe’ of a possible deal.

German chancellor Angela Merkel recognises the “serious divergences” standing in the way of overall consensus but stressed earlier this week that “we are all conscious of the necessity to act rapidly”.

Thus it’s a case of wait and see what comes out of the talks which are due to run into Saturday.

The whole affair is going ahead under the strictest rules of hygiene, with all leaders wearing masks, using hand sanitiser and being scrupulously placed to ensure correct physical distancing.

As one headline stresses, there is to be ‘no backslapping, no bonhomie’.

For Portugal, the talks basically boil down to how much money we’ll get to help the country ‘recover’ that won’t need paying back.

The proposal by the Commission (€750 billion of which €500 billion would be in the form of non-refundable grants) would see Portugal receiving roughly €26 billion, of which €15 billion wouldn’t need to be paid back.

PM António Costa has said he’s all for the plan, but the ‘frugals’, led in large part by Dutch PM Mark Rutte aren’t. They want the overall size of ‘cash envelopes’ reduced. They are not in favour of money being handed over that doesn’t need paying back, and they are also keen on putting ‘provisos’ into the deal, like the need for structural reforms.

Also under discussion today is the future EU ‘pluriannual budget’ – amounting to roughly a trillion euros.

As everyone involved is painfully aware, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.