EU to meet face-to-face at summit to carve up $2.1 trillion

Full Screen
1 / 15

A member of security stands in a meeting room especially adapted to adhere to physical distance guidelines for EU leaders for an upcoming EU summit at the European Council building in Brussels, Thursday, July 16, 2020. Friday's summit will be held in a larger-than-usual meeting room to meet social distancing requirements, the media will be kept to a minimum and there will be no group photo of the leaders. Sign on door reads 'stay 1.5 meters apart, distance makes the heart grow fonder'. (Yves Herman, Pool Photo via AP)

BRUSSELS – There are limits to videoconferencing: When there is a lot of money at stake, people like to look each other in the eye.

So on Friday, leaders from 27 European Union nations will be meeting face-to-face for the first since February — despite the dangers of the coronavirus pandemic — to try to carve up a potential package of 1.85 trillion euros ($2.1 trillion) among themselves, and, just as importantly, see who will pay in the most.

In perhaps the first such major meeting of leaders since the COVID-19 outbreak hit the world, the stakes were just too high to maintain extreme social distancing.

“You can feel the mood, as it were," Germany's Europe minister, Michael Roth, said of such flesh-and-blood summits. “I wouldn't claim to be a psychologist, but I would say it really does help."

It better had, since five remote video summits so far this year failed to bridge the financial gap between rival nations needing to agree on a more than 1-trillion-euro budget for the next seven years and a 750-billion-euro fund to allow nations recover from the coronavirus crisis.

“It was already clear at Easter when I was calling, the first time, all the different capitals, that such a decision can only be taken if the leaders, prime ministers, heads of state, meet in person in Brussels," EU Budget Commissioner Johannes Hahn said.

French President Emmanuel Macron is already sweeping into town late Thursday, eager to get as many encounters in as possible. German Chancellor Angela Merkel plans to hold out until the official kickoff time early Friday.

Whatever happens, it will make for an EU summit unlike any other at the urn-shaped Europa headquarters.