After four days and nights of wrangling, exhausted European Union leaders finally clinched a deal on an unprecedented $2.1 trillion budget and coronavirus recovery fund early Tuesday, after one of their longest summits ever. The 27 leaders grudgingly committed to a costly, massive aid package for those hit hardest by COVID-19, which has already killed 135,000 people within the bloc alone, per the AP. With masks and hand sanitizer everywhere at the summit, the leaders were constantly reminded of the potent medical and economic threat the virus poses. "Extraordinary events, and this is the pandemic that has reached us all, also require extraordinary new methods," German Chancellor Angela Merkel said. To confront the biggest recession in its history, the EU will establish an $860 billion coronavirus fund, partly based on common borrowing, to be sent as loans and grants to the hardest-hit countries.
That's in addition to an agreement on the seven-year, $1.1 trillion EU budget that leaders had been haggling over for months even before the pandemic. At first, Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron wanted the grants to total $573 billion, but the so-called "frugals"—five wealthy northern nations led by the Netherlands—wanted that cut and strict economic reform conditions imposed; the figure was brought down to $447 billion. Rarely had a summit been as ill-tempered as this one, the longest since a five-day summit in Nice, France, in 2000. "There were extremely tense moments," Macron said. Even if Tuesday's agreement was a giant leap forward, the European Parliament still has to approve the deal. Still, "there are 27 of us around the table and we managed to come up with a joint budget," Macron said. "What other political area in the world is capable of that? None other."
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