Birthday gifts and masks at EU's 'elbow bump' summit

Published: 08:22 PM, 17 Jul, 2020
Birthday gifts and masks at EU's 'elbow bump' summit
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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 and spirits were high.

Brussels promised impeccable hygiene with tweets showing staff scrubbing down the conference room with chiffons and power sprays. Other images showed workers cleaning 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 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, insignia or special message.

Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa even offered a luxury box of masks to each of his counterparts with their national flags embroidered.

Several Eastern European leaders, including Hungary's Viktor Orban and the Czech Republic's Andrej Babis, broke the Covid-conscious decorum, however, not hesitating to shake hands.

Long-held summit pleasantries remained unchanged. EU leaders often exchange gifts for birthdays, weddings or baby arrivals.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the EU's veteran supremo, turned 66 on Friday and France gave her bottles of Burgundy wine, but behind the scenes.

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.


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.

At one point, she politely told him that his mask had slipped, revealing his nose.

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.

In return, the chancellor received an on-theme summer beach read: "Blindness" by Nobel-laureate Jose Saramago, the tale of an unexplained epidemic.

Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen received a bottle of sparkling wine from Luxembourg -- after  she moved forward her own wedding day to Wednesday 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 crowded EU-Africa or Asia summits.

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.


Agence France-Presse is an international news agency.