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Dutch PM 'quite gloomy' about EU virus deal

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The Hague (AFP)

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said Tuesday he was "not hopeful" of a deal on an EU coronavirus fund this week, despite opening the door to compromise on a key hurdle.

The "frugal four" of the Netherlands, Austria, Denmark and Sweden have said they want the 750-billion-euro recovery package to contain only loans for pandemic-hit states, and not grants.

Rutte told parliament that despite meeting a string of EU leaders in recent days to break the deadlock, he was "quite gloomy about how things will go" at a summit on Thursday.

"I can assure you that we are doing everything we can behind the scenes, but that given how things are going, I am not hopeful," he said.

The Dutch premier insisted that "we are for loans" which are conditional on tough economic reforms by countries that get the money, such as pension and labour market changes.

"If countries then say 'but we also want to know what the road to grants is,' then… I have to be able to explain to the Dutch parliament and all Dutch citizens that in exchange, fundamental reforms that have stalled so far are taking place," Rutte said.

The Netherlands should also have a right to veto any grant if countries did not carry out those reforms, Rutte said.

"That's where the balance is, I think, you will have to find it. I'm not so hopeful about that at all," he concluded.

French President Emmanuel Macron, EU chief Charles Michel and the prime ministers of Italy, Spain and Portugal have all visited The Hague for talks with Rutte in recent days without any sign of a major breakthrough.

Rutte also travelled to Berlin for talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel last week.

The Dutch premier has previously said he does not understand the rush for a deal on the COVID-19 deal, and responded last week that he was "not made of marzipan" when asked how he would withstand EU pressure.

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