Dutch will seek guarantees on budget reforms at EU recovery fund talks, Rutte says

FILE PHOTO: Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte speaks to reporters in Berlin, Germany, July 9, 2020. Bernd von Jutrczenka/Pool via Reuters

The Hague (Reuters) - The Netherlands will seek guarantees on budget reforms when it negotiates a European Union coronavirus recovery fund next week in Brussels, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said on Friday, setting the stage for tough talks between the bloc’s 27 members.

Rutte made the remarks as he held a series of one-on-one discussions with EU leaders who have been trying to persuade the Dutch to drop opposition to a 750 billion euro fund supported by France and Germany.

“We have heard many promises on economic reforms before, the question is now how can we nail this down,” Rutte told journalists on Friday. “We are having many discussions about that behind the scenes.”

European Council President Charles Michel offered concessions on Friday to EU countries on their long-term budget and economic stimulus plan in a bid to bridge gaps, including maintaining the so-called rebates that wealthier states receive on their budget contributions.

Rutte said that maintaining the rebate was a good “starting point on the way to recovery fund negotiations,” but stressed that other major issues remained.

The Netherlands is leading a group of nations, known as the frugal four, that are opposed to collectively borrowing billions of euros for other EU countries unless they commit to budget reforms.

After meeting leaders from France, Germany and the European Union executive in recent weeks, Rutte was to dine with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte on Friday.

Rutte said he will also meet his counterparts from Spain and Portugal early next week, before the 27 EU leaders meet for their July 17-18 summit.

Reporting by Stephanie van den Berg; Writing by Anthony Deutsch; Editing by Alex Richardson and Frances Kerry