European Union leaders opened a summit in Belgium Friday hoping to finalize a $855 billion COVID-19 recovery plan for members of the alliance.
The event is the first time EU leaders have gathered in Brussels since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
A number of safety protocols are in use at EU headquarters, including masks, distancing and deep cleaning. Leaders won’t shake hands, either.
Leaders are working on the recovery package as well as a $1.14 trillion seven-year budget.
The EU first raised the recovery package in May, but there have been disagreements over how to spend the money and where it would be best allocated.
The Netherlands leads a coalition that wants to cut the package in favor of loans that would need to be repaid.
The European Commission has proposed borrowing to raise the money and award the funds as grants. Two of the bloc’s strongest members, Germany and France, support the EU plan.
“We are going into the consultations with a lot of vigor, but … the differences are still very, very large and I cannot predict whether we will be able to reach an agreement this time,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said.
“I expect very, very difficult negotiations.”
Leaders at the summit are also expected to address climate change. France, Austria and other Nordic nations favor a proposal to set aside 30% of the EU budget for net-zero emissions efforts by 2050. Countries including Bulgaria, the Czech Republic and Greece have balked at the proposal.
The summit is expected to run through Saturday.
By: Clyde Hughes