European Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen (L) and European Council President Charles Michel give one another an elbow at the end of a news conference following a four-day European summit at the European Council in Brussels on Tuesday. Photo by Stephanie Lecocq/EPA-EFE
July 21 (UPI) -- Following nearly five days of heated negotiations, leaders of the European Union on Tuesday agreed on a landmark $2 trillion stimulus package and budget deal to preserve the health of their citizens and prevent the collapse of their economies amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The 27 heads of state and government agreed Tuesday morning to the plan that includes an $857 billion stimulus package the union will collectively borrow from the market and then distribute $446 billion in grants and $411 billion in low-interest loans to distressed countries.
Following the deal being reached, European Council President Charles Michel tweeted one word: "Deal!"
"We did it. Europe is strong. Europe is united," said a grinning Michel later during his remarks to the media. "This is a good deal. This is a strong deal. And, most importantly, this is the right deal for Europe right now."
Michel referred to the negotiations, the first in person by the leaders since Feb. 21 when Europe was hit hard by the pandemic, as a "marathon" that saw some 90 hours of discussion since Friday.
Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, called the agreement during the press conference unprecedented, giving Europe "a big chance to come out stronger from this crisis."
"Today, we've taken a historic step that we can all be proud of," she said.
Once the epicenter of the virus, European countries imposed strict lockdown measures to stymie the spread of the coronavirus, dealing a blow to the bloc's economy.
Last month, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development predicted that while the world's gross domestic product could sink 7.6% this year under the weight of the pandemic, the fallout for Europe could be "particularly harsh," stating production could drop between 9% and 11.5%.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron had submitted a joint plan to the European Commission in May that included a higher $572 billion in grants to prevent the pandemic's economic consequences from endangering EU cohesion.
However, the so-called frugal states of the Netherlands, Austria, Sweden and Denmark balked at the plan, calling for the grants to be greatly reduced. An agreement was made after Michel proposed the $446 billion grant program as a compromise.
"Europe has shown it is able to break new ground in a special situation," Merkel said in a news conference. "Exceptional situations require exceptional measures. A very special construct of 27 countries of different backgrounds is actually able to act together and it has proven it."
Spain and Italy, among the nations hardest hit by the virus, are expected to benefit from the package, with Pedro Sanchez, the prime minister of Spain, describing the agreement via Twitter as "a true Marshall plan to give a forceful response to the crisis."
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said Tuesday was "a historical day for Europe and for Italy."
The deal comes as global infections neared 15 million and deaths stood at more than 600,000 early Tuesday.
Europe, which accounts for less than 10 percent of the global population, had nearly 2.7 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 and nearly 200,000 deaths, according to worldometers.info.