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Italy, Portugal say economic forecasts show need for EU help

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Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

Italy's Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte is received by Portugal's Prime Minister Antonio Costa, right, at the Sao Bento palace in Lisbon, Tuesday, July 7, 2020. Southern European countries are mounting a show of strength as negotiations over how much money they get from the EU, and in what form, comes to a crunch. (AP Photo/Armando Franca)

LISBON – New forecasts predicting the European Union’s economy is headed for a steep decline underscore the need for quick approval of a proposed recovery fund to help its 27 member countries, the leaders of Italy and Portugal said Tuesday.

“The figures demonstrate the urgency of clinching a deal” at an EU summit next week to discuss financial measures, Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa said.

“We can’t miss this chance,” he told a news conference in Lisbon, Portugal with Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte.

Conte, whose country is forecast by the EU’s executive Commission to endure a double-digit contraction after years of slow growth and high public debt, said Europe “needs to move quickly” to address the continent’s “social and economic emergency.”

The EU economy as a whole will contract by 8.3% this year, according to the latest predictions released earlier Tuesday by the Commission.

The EU Commission is proposing a 750 billion-euro ($849 billion) economic recovery fund made up mostly of grants.

The proposal has encountered resistance from EU countries dubbed the “Frugal Four” — Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden —which oppose grants and are reluctant to give money away without strings attached.

Southern European countries are pushing hard for a deal at the negotiations in Brussels next Friday and Saturday.

Costa, who received Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez on Monday for talks on the same issue, said Conte’s visit was to “coordinate positions and the smooth the path” to an agreement.