Birthday torte and mask gifts at EU's 'elbow bump' summit

Brussels (AFP) –


In a major test for global diplomacy during a pandemic, EU leaders met physically in Brussels on Friday and the elbow bump was the greeting of choice.

The 27 European heads of state and government are holding their first sit-down since coronavirus lockdowns spread across the globe in March.

This summit will have been the most hygienic ever, the EU insisted, with tweets showing staff scrubbing down the conference room with chiffons and power sprays. Other images showed workers scrubbing their hands assiduously.

Leaders entered the summit room in the Europa building to be greeted by the host and chair, EU council chief Charles Michel, with a slight bow and a tap of the elbow.

They wore masks during this traditional on-camera meet and greet, circling around to say hello to their long lost counterparts whom they hadn't seen as a group since February.

Some, including EU commission chief Ursula von der Leyen, wore a mass produced mask that you might buy at your local pharmacy.

Others, like Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel and Bulgarian premier Boyko Borisov, preferred something more custom made, with their national flag or insignia.

Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa, who takes over the EU’s rotating presidency from Germany in six months' time, offered a luxury box of masks to each of his counterparts with embroidered flags.

Certain long-held summit pleasantries remained unchanged. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the EU's veteran supremo, turned 66 on Friday and France gave her bottles of wine, but behind the scenes, out of sight from the others.

Austria brought her a Sachertorte cake, the Viennese chocolate delicacy supposedly created for Prince Metternich, who chaired his own crunch summit to divide up Europe after the Napoleonic wars.

- Luxembourg bubbly -

Later, in the summit room with the cameras still rolling, Bulgaria’s Borisov took Merkel aside to show her a gift box with a silver flask of rose oil that he was seen carefully explaining to her.

It was also the birthday of Portugal’s Costa and Merkel gave him a 17th century map of Goa and a museum catalogue about Portugese seafarers.

Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen received a bottle of sparkling wine from Luxembourg: she got married on Wednesday after moving forward her own wedding day to avoid a clash with summit.

The 27 leaders and EU chiefs met in the Europa building's biggest room, which is usually used for EU-Africa summits, with their many dozen leaders with large delegations.

There, leaders could sit several metres apart and prepare for the two days of talks to agree, or not, on how to spend almost two trillion euros.

This time, their delegations were strictly limited to just five people. At normal summits, an entourage can grow to more than 20.