The Frugal Four are four EU countries - Austria, the Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden - which reject the idea of cash handouts to relatively poorer countries. The EU needs their backing for the massive fiscal package to be implemented.
In a push to get them behind the initiative, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has invited David Sassoli, President of the European Parliament, and Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, whose country has just assumed the rotating EU presidency, as well as Council President Charles Michel, to a meeting on 8 July to “take stock of progress and prepare the intensive political negotiations that lie ahead.”
A summit of EU leaders will be held on 17 July where, it is hoped, the package will get the green light.
Ahead of this Wednesday's meeting, Rasmussen, who was NATO Secretary General from 2009-14 and Prime Minister of Denmark from 2001-2009, said, “Of course, Denmark, my home country, is one of the Frugal Four.”
“There will be some concessions to the Frugal Four but, for me, the recovery plan bodes well for the future and provides a platform for a more coherent and solid EU” Anders Fogh Rasmussen, former Prime Minister of Denmark
“The bottom line, though, is that I am sure Denmark and the others will accept this big package. I think it will be, in principle, the Commission’s package that will be approved. There will be some concessions to the Frugal Four but, for me, the recovery plan bodes well for the future and provides a platform for a more coherent and solid EU.”
“There will be bumps on the road: the recovery plan will still be difficult to agree and it also costs trillions of euros. The question now is when will the package be adopted?”
He added, “I would be surprised if there is agreement at the July 17 summit. I think they will need another round of talks but that it will be adopted during the German presidency. There is too much at stake to let it fail.”
“I must say I am a bit more optimistic for the EU than I was two months ago.”
He warned, “Whatever the outcome though the EU will still be torn between fragmentation and implementation because the Coronavirus health crisis has revealed a weakness in EU solidarity.”
Rasmussen was one of five former European leaders taking part in an online discussion about the post-Covid strategy for Europe and its repercussions for EU relations with the United States, China and the Arab Gulf.
The webinar, organized by Brussels-based EU-Gulf NGO Bussola Institute, was moderated by Spanish MEP Antonio López-Istúriz White.
Another participant, José María Aznar, Prime Minister of Spain from 1996-2004, was critical of a “dearth of international leadership,” with the possible exception of Merkel.
He said, “There is a real lack of leadership in the world. In fact, it is non-existent. During the crisis we have seen more nationalism, more borders close, more entrenchment and a rise in totalitarianism.”
“The young will be most impacted, no doubt about that. But do the young look to the EU with optimism? No, and I cannot blame them as the EU was slow to respond to the start of the crisis” Mary McAleese, former President of Ireland
“The world order is under threat and we must choose the route we want to take: more protectionism or free trade and liberal societies. What is clear is that we live in a more unstable world with disorder and conflict and Germany’s role, during the presidency, will be very important.”
Mary McAleese, President of Ireland from 1997-2011, also took part, saying, “These are very unstable times and people feel weak and vulnerable from the virus and its economic impact. The outbreak comes on the back of a long period of austerity. It hit just when we were getting strong again. Now, we are almost back to square one.”
She added, “The young will be most impacted, no doubt about that. But do the young look to the EU with optimism? No, and I cannot blame them as the EU was slow to respond to the start of the crisis.”
“Nor are they reassured by the shelf life of EU solidarity because we have already seen this breaking down. So the EU has a huge job to do in creating a mood of stability and not just with the recovery plan.”
“To borrow Boris Johnson’s mantra about getting Brexit done, the EU has to show that it can get things done so that it can show the young that its shock absorption is stronger than the weaknesses highlighted by the crisis.
“The EU must realise it did not get it right at the start of this crisis. It has to realise that Europe has not been strengthened by this crisis but, with the right actions, it could be.”
Jadranka Kosor, Prime Minister of Croatia from 2009-11, said, “The virus has posed many unanswered questions. There is no cure, no vaccine and it continues to spread out of control so the consequences for humanity cannot be predicted. The world will be poorer as a result.”
“The choice between the economy and health is dramatic. But, of course, if there are no healthy people there is no economy.”
He added, “Germany takes over the presidency from my country with a message of making Europe strong again, which is a good and strong message. But if the virus accelerates and strikes again in the autumn it will be difficult to expect large scale solidarity. Member states will just take care of themselves.”
“This crisis, though, has shown that the world is one big village in which we are all connected so I hope the EU will work harder to connect us. That is what is needed.”