BERLIN/BRUSSELS (Reuters) - German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier said he expected European Union finance ministers meeting later on Thursday to make progress towards agreeing a 500 billion euro ($543.20 billion) coronavirus economic rescue package.
In a 16-hour videoconference that stretched through the night from Tuesday afternoon to Wednesday morning, the EU ministers failed to seal a deal on how much more to support their coronavirus-stricken economies.
The ministers are due to reconvene at 1500 GMT on Thursday.
"It's important that we take this decision today on the 500 billion euros that is in discussion -- that's an incredibly large sum of money that we could use to help a lot of people, especially in the hardest hit countries, Spain and Italy," Altmaier told Germany's Deutschlandfunk radio.
"I have confidence that (German Finance Minister) Olaf Scholz, together with his colleague (French Finance Minister) Bruno Le Maire, can push this forward today and we are all working on that together," he added.
Scholz had said on Wednesday that finance ministers had almost reached agreement "but not quite" and he hoped a deal would be struck before Easter.
But divisions have so far prevented a deal between southern EU states, led by Italy, who demand far-reaching measures like issuing joint EU debt, and the Netherlands, acting as the bulwark of the fiscally conservative north, which is calling for more restraint and narrowly focused measures.
Weeks of fraught discussions about the scale and scope of EU support to cushion the economic slump triggered by the pandemic have exposed deep EU divisions, echoing the ones already seen in the euro zone and financial crises that started a decade ago.
The bloc's 27 member states have also fought over medical equipment and drugs, and imposed emergency border checks inside what normally is Europe's zone of control-free travel in a bid to curb the spread of the virus, in further signs of how coronavirus is testing EU unity.
($1 = 0.9205 euros)
(Reporting by Michelle Martin, additional reporting by Gabriela Baczynska, Editing by Catherine Evans)