Merkel says 'every day counts' in passing EU recovery fund

BERLIN (AP) — German Chancellor Angela Merkel pushed Friday for a quick agreement on a recovery fund aimed at pulling the European Union out of the coronavirus recession, arguing that “every day counts.”

Germany, which has the EU's biggest economy and most populous country, took over the rotating EU presidency for six months on Wednesday. That gives it a key role in cajoling others in the 27-nation bloc to compromise on the recovery fund and the EU budget for the next seven years — ideally when EU leaders meet July 17-18 for their first in-person summit in months.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has invited Merkel and top EU officials to a meeting July 8 to “take stock of progress” and prepare the negotiations.

“The road is stony and a lot of good will and readiness to compromise from all sides will be required to achieve our aim,” Merkel told the upper house of Germany's parliament in a speech setting out her priorities for the EU presidency. “But in view of the current economic development, time is pressing and every day counts.”

Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron in May proposed creating a one-time 500 billion-euro ($563 billion) recovery fund that would be filled through shared EU borrowing. That is a big step for Germany, breaking with its long-standing opposition to any kind of joint borrowing.

The EU’s executive Commission expanded on the proposal, putting forward plans for a 750 billion-euro fund made up mostly of grants. It faces resistance from countries dubbed the “Frugal Four” — Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden — that oppose grants and are reluctant to give money away without strings attached.

“The situation is exceptional, so it requires an exceptional effort,” Merkel said. She added that working for an economically and socially strong and united Europe “is also a decisive political instrument against populists, against anti-democratic forces, radical and authoritarian movements.”