EU leaders need to reach a deal on the bloc’s next long-term budget before the summer break, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in an interview Saturday.
She said that to achieve this, two leaders’ summits might have to be held next month.
EU leaders will meet on July 17-18 in Brussels — at the first in-person summit since February — to hammer out an agreement on the budget and the bloc’s coronavirus recovery plan.
The Commission has proposed a seven-year budget for 2021-27 of €1.1 trillion and plans to take on €750 billion in joint debt to provide recovery funding, including €500 billion in grants, to mitigate the economic impact of the pandemic. Member states have so far been unable to agree on a deal.
Von der Leyen said she was glad EU leaders would soon meet in person, saying: “You cannot conduct such major negotiations by videoconference.”
She added: “It’s important that we finish before the summer break. After all, the European Parliament must approve the plan and it must be ratified by the national parliaments.”
The Commission president also said that a second July summit could be necessary.
“Either we manage it on first [try] or we need a second,” she said. “We cannot afford a summer break until [an agreement]. Europe needs this recovery plan urgently.”
She did, however see “huge progress” during the last summit as all leaders “essentially accepted our new concept that the EU, with the guarantees of the member states, borrows money on the financial markets in order to finance investments in the crisis and at the same time modernize Europe.”
Her call for a speedy agreement contrasts with the words of the Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte who, after this month’s summit, said that “there’s no big damage done if the heads of state don’t reach an agreement mid-July.”
Von der Leyen downplayed that divide: despite some differences, EU leaders “agree that we have to give an adequate answer to this unprecedented crisis,” she said.
“I take Mark Rutte’s concerns very seriously. He is right in saying that reforms must go hand in hand with investments,” she said, adding: “In the European Council, everyone is aware that our prosperity depends on the European single market starting up again. This applies to the Netherlands as well as to all other member states.”