‘Italians are suffering’ Giuseppe Conte demands ‘effective’ response ahead of EU clash

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Speaking to reporters as he arrived in Brussels for the EU summit on the bloc’s 2020 budget, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte urged EU leaders to agree to an “effective” response to the coronavirus crisis. As Italy continues to be one of the countries most affected by the pandemic in Europe, Mr Conte warned his citizens are “still suffering”. 

He said: “I am fully aware of the existing divergences but I am also strongly determined that we need to get over them.

“Not just in the interest of Italian citizens who have suffered and are still suffering a lot, but also in the interest of all European citizens.

“Our red line is that the response has to be adequate and effective.

“It needs to be concretely pursuable.”

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte on Friday said he was “not optimistic” that agreement would be reached between the EU’s 27 member states over a coronavirus recovery fund.

“I’m not optimistic, but you never know,” he told Dutch broadcaster NOS as he arrived for a special summit of the bloc’s leaders to negotiate a deal on their 2021-27 budget and a new coronavirus recovery fund worth 750 billion euros.

The Netherlands wants countries receiving EU support from the fund to agree to reforms in their labour markets and pension systems among other areas.

It is leading a group of several smaller EU nations that are opposed to providing grants or assistance without strict conditions.

Lithuania’s President Gitanas Nauseda also said he was unsure if EU leaders could reach a deal at a two-day summit in Brussels on an EU recovery fund and a multi-year budget.

“I’m not so optimistic … We think the initial (budget) proposal is interesting, promising,” he told reporters on arrival.

But Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said that European Union leaders have an obligation to their citizens to reach an agreement on the EU recovery fund.

“Spain is coming to this summit eager to reach an agreement, to defend logically our national interests on agriculture and also on how we conceive the governance of the recovery fund,” Sanchez told reporters in Brussels moments before meeting with his fellow European leaders.

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“It is a moment of truth and ambition for Europe,” French President Emmanuel Macron said as he arrived for the meeting of 27 leaders in Brussels after weeks of tension over the scale and scope of the rescue fund.

“It is our European project that is at stake here. I am confident but cautious.”

The 27 EU heads will meet in a room equipped with hand sanitisers, and disinfected headsets to provide translation, in the Brussels EU headquarters, which will unusually be devoid of journalists, as a health precaution.

The summit is scheduled to run for two days, though officials said it could spill into Sunday if an agreement remains elusive. Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel told Reuters he had brought an extra set of clothes just in case.

The stakes are high with EU economies in free fall, immediate relief measures such as short-time work schemes running out this summer and paving the way for what some fear will be an autumn of deep economic malaise and discontent.

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