There was courtship and accusations of betrayal, there were confessions to the camera and off-mic dealings. It may sound like the latest episode of a reality show, but the dramatic scenes were coming out of the European Council during the negotiations on the EU Budget.
The heads of governments of the EU27 set up camp in Brussels for crunch talks that went on day and night before European Council President Charles Michel emerged triumphant on the fifth morning, announcing that an agreement had finally been reached.
Besides stretching into the second-longest budget debate ever, this summit has also made history by introducing collective debt among member states for the very first time. French President Emmanuel Macron enthusiastically declared this step the most significant change to the bloc since the single currency, even while other leaders assured their constituents that this was only a one-time measure forced by the extraordinary circumstances.
Other fault lines were created up and down the EU map, especially over the crucial elements of the coronavirus recovery fund. Disagreements about the portion of direct grants pitted governments from the southern regions against those in the north; while countries to the eastern borders of the EU felt unfairly targeted by those on the westernmost margins who advocated for rule of law guarantees. The governance of disbursement risked, at one point, to crash the entire process but the conclusive wording of the agreement gave every leader something to write home about.
When the elbow-bumping euphoria dissipated, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen acknowledged in the EU Parliament that the final package looked less ambitious than what the executive had originally set out to achieve. Nevertheless, the concerted response to the Covid-19 by EU members was more significant and put together much quicker than what many sceptics had expected.
While the squabbling, the intransigence, the impatience has been well documented in hour-by-hour coverage reports, the final agreement testifies to the leaders’ readiness to allow concessions and seek compromise. The high-stakes negotiations demonstrate that country governments can indeed come together into a Union worthy of its name to make the system work for all citizens.
If a classic reality show ends with the winner standing alone, the success of the EU summit culminates in the European family standing together.