July 17, 2020 / 10:27 AM / 19 days ago

Best birthday present may elude Merkel at testing EU summit

Finland's Prime Minister Sanna Marin, Belgium's Prime Minister Sophie Wilmes, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and German Chancellor Angela Merkel speak during the first face-to-face EU summit since the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Brussels, Belgium July 17, 2020. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir/Pool

(Reuters) - Back in July 2014, an eager journalist sang “Happy Birthday” to German Chancellor Angela Merkel as she celebrated her 60th at a summit of European Union leaders.

On Friday, turning 66, she was back in Brussels.

This time, however, the head of Europe’s most powerful country sounded downbeat as she arrived for talks with other EU leaders, doubting whether they would be able to overcome deep differences to pass a multi-billion-euro plan to pull economies out of their coronavirus-related slump.

“We are all going into the talks with a lot of vigour, but I must say that the differences are still very, very big and so I can’t yet say whether we will get a solution,” she said.

French President Emmanuel Macron gave her several bottles of white Burgundy wine, and footage showed Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte taking a picture of her with Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa, also celebrating his birthday on Friday.

Merkel received presents from several other EU leaders, but it was unclear if they would also give her the satisfaction of a deal on the bloc’s next budget, worth 1 trillion euros, and a new economic recovery fund of 750 billion.

The summit has also interfered with the private affairs of another EU leader. Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen had had to bring forward her wedding from Friday to Wednesday to be free for the trip to Brussels.

“Going on ‘honeymoon’ to EU summit in Brussels,” she quipped, tweeting a picture of herself on board a plane headed for the talks.

Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by John Chalmers and Kevin Liffey

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