Berlin (dpa) - In the dispute over the EU fund for the reconstruction in the Corona crisis, compromises are feverishly explored. A few days before the EU summit on Friday, Chancellor Angela Merkel welcomes Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte today.

The meeting takes place in Meseberg north of Berlin in the guest house of the federal government. Afterwards Merkel and Conte want to inform the press. In The Hague, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte wants to speak to his counterparts from Spain and Portugal, Pedro Sánchez and António Costa, today. Sánchez is also expected at Merkel in the Chancellery in Berlin on Tuesday.

Italy and Spain have been particularly hard hit by the Corona pandemic and are potential main recipients of the planned EU aid. Merkel and Rutte are on different sides. The Netherlands, along with Austria, Denmark and Sweden, are among the “Frugal Four” who refuse to reimburse non-repayable billions. According to the European Commission, 500 billion euros of the debt-financed reconstruction plan are to be granted as grants and 250 billion as loans. The Hague only wants to grant the funds in the form of loans, which are also to be linked to economic reforms.

Merkel's meeting with Conte should also be about the European Stability Mechanism (ESM). Italy, hit by the Corona crisis and heavily indebted, could get up to 36 billion euros in cheap loans. For weeks, politicians in Italy have been debating whether the country should use ESM credit lines - despite an impending economic downturn by more than ten percent.

Contes government coalition of social democrats and populist five-star movement is at odds. Opposition right-wing parties like Matteo Salvini's Lega in particular are creating a mood against Europe. Italy hit the Corona crisis particularly hard with around 35,000 deaths. Experts warn of devastating economic consequences because many people in the country are dependent on tourism. 

Merkel's conversation with Conte is part of a series of votes ahead of the Friday and Saturday summit in Brussels to explore lines of compromise on the billion-dollar program to deal with the Corona economic crisis and the multiannual financial framework. For the first time since February, the EU heads of state and government meet again in person.

Merkel met Rutte in Berlin on Thursday, who in turn spoke to Conte in The Hague on Friday. Around noon on Monday, Rutte wants to advise the Spanish Prime Minister Sánchez, later with the Portuguese Prime Minister Costa, around noon.

After his meetings with Merkel and Conte, Rutte had reaffirmed the demands for reform. Not only should there be general assurances from the economically weaker countries, but "good and binding agreements" are needed.

In the “Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung”, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz made the condition for approval of the EU aid package that the money should flow “into the right areas”. Kurz mentioned "more research and development for a good digital infrastructure, including the technological change that is necessary for better climate protection". In addition, the money would have to be linked to reform requirements such as cutting red tape or fighting tax evasion. Kurz also reiterated the request that the recipient countries would have to repay at least part of the aid later. "I am in favor of an overall balance between loans and grants and that grants are not going to go up," he said.

© dpa-infocom, dpa: 200713-99-767403 / 3