The leaders will meet by videolink to discuss the virus crisis for the fourth time in seven weeks — a sign, one senior Brussels official said, of the “seriousness of the challenge and the importance we attach to a common solution”.
But common ground is scarce. The pandemic has reopened the wounds of the 2009 financial crisis, once again pitting northern and southern Europe against one another.
Southern states like Spain and Italy, badly hit by the disease and heavily indebted, are demanding “solidarity” — financial help — from the rich north.
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, who has pushed for mutualised EU debt, dubbed “coronabonds”, struck a firm line on Tuesday.
He told the Italian parliament he would accept “no compromises” and would not sign up to a “bargain deal”.
On the other side, northern countries led by Germany and the Netherlands refuse even to entertain the idea of coronabonds and are reluctant to fund Mediterranean governments they accuse of profligacy.
In a sign of how far apart they are, leaders will not even issue their usual joint statement after the videoconference, a diplomat told AFP.
“No one should have exaggerated expectations for this meeting,” another diplomat said.
EU Council President Charles Michel, the nominal host of the summit, set a low bar in the invitation letter sent to leaders on Tuesday.
He urged them only to “work towards” creating a European Recovery Fund to rebuild the bloc’s economy after the pandemic eases.
The leaders are expected to ask the European Commission, the bloc’s executive, to analyse the probable needs and come back with a proposal.
They will also sign off on a 540-billion-euro ($584-billion) emergency package agreed by EU finance ministers earlier this month.