New fault lines are appearing in the EU

Anyone who imagined that the departure of Britain would make for more harmonious EU summits in future will have been disabused of this belief by the four days of meetings to establish an EU coronavirus recovery fund, which came within an hour of being the longest on record. Agreement was reached on a €750 billion package — just over half of which will be made up of grants and the rest loans — but not before the French President, Emmanuel Macron, had reportedly thumped the table and accused a group of countries of putting the entire European project at risk through their refusal to sign for an even higher sum. Even now, the deal might still run into trouble: the European parliament is already voicing objections.

For connoisseurs of EU summits it must have been a bit like the old days, when a recalcitrant Britain would invariably find itself accused of thwarting the dream of ever-closer union. With Britain no longer there to represent their interests, the leaders of the ‘frugal four’ — the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden and Austria — instead found themselves being held up as the bad guys. The Dutch PM, Mark Rutte, was even accused of behaving like the British.

For the first time, the European Commission will be allowed to borrow large sums on the international money markets. This fundamentally changes the scope of the organisation. No longer will it depend entirely on funds transferred from member states. Along with being able to borrow in this way, its budget and ambitions can now be expected to swell.

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