Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron remained a safe six feet apart today as they met for talks as Germany prepares to take over the EU presidency.
German Chancellor Merkel greeted the French President on a red carpet at Meseberg Castle outside Berlin ahead of the meeting, and the pair were later seen sitting down for refreshments outside.
The leaders kept a two-metre distance at all times amid the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 100,000 people across European Union nations.
Germany will begin its six-month presidency on July 1, as the EU faces the challenge of trying to get economies back on track and restore freedom of movement after the pandemic.
This weekend, Merkel said she was convinced Europe could overcome these challenges even though coronavirus continues to be a threat. She added that EU economic recovery measures need to be passed as quickly as possible.
Merkel and Macron in May proposed creating a one-off £456 billion ($561 billion) recovery fund that would be fulfilled through shared EU borrowing.
The proposal was expanded upon by the EU’s executive Commission, which put forward plans for a £685 billion fund made up mostly of grants.
It is facing resistance from some countries, however, which oppose grants and are reluctant to give funds with no strings attached.
Speaking in a joint press conference today, Merkel held out hope that EU member states will agree on a multi-year budget of more than $1.12 trillion as well as a recovery fund at a summit of leader next month.
She said: ‘We hope we can find a solution, even if there is still a long way to go.’
EU leaders agreed earlier this month that urgent action was needed to haul their economies out of the deepest recession since World War Two.
They will seek to bridge differences at their summit in July over a proposal by the European Commission, the bloc’s executive, to borrow £456 billion ($561 billion) from the market for a recovery fund that would help revive economies hardest hit by coronavirus, notably Italy and Spain.
With more than 100,000 deaths from Covid-19, the EU is keen to demonstrate solidarity after months of bickering which has dented public confidence and put the bloc’s global standing at risk.
Macron reiterated his position that a deal on the EU budget and recovery fund could be found at the July summit. He said the fund should include £456 billion ($561 billion) of grants to the hardest-hit countries.
‘The chancellor and I put it on paper: It’s our absolute priority,’ Macron said. ‘Without this, Europe wouldn’t rise to the challenge.’
Merkel and Macron appeared at ease as they met at the German government villa in Brandenburg, chatting as they walked through the garden before sitting down at a small table outside and talking in the afternoon sun.
In addition to the upcoming plans for the German EU presidency, the two leaders were expected to talk about multiple other issues, including relations with China, the US and migration policy.