An EU summit to conceive an economic plan against the coronavirus impact instead unearthed the union’s deep and historic divisions, with Spain and Italy hurt by Dutch insensitivity.
The bloc’s 27 leaders met for six hours by videoconference on Thursday, with Rome and Madrid pleading their partners to do everything possible to deal with the crisis.
In Europe, more than 10,000 people have died from the Covid-19 virus, with Italy and Spain each counting more deaths than China, where the outbreak began.
To slow the spread, Europe’s economy has been put into something like a coma, with restaurants closed, tourism dead and millions of workers teleworking while children are stuck at home from school.
The state of affairs is especially dire for Italy, a country saddled with 2tn euros in debt, a teetering banking system and where anti-EU populists are a constant threat to stable government.
Italy’s request is simple: to keep market speculators at bay, the country wants to pool its own borrowing with that of its eurozone partners through a newly designed instrument it calls “corona bonds”.
This would ease the burden of crisis spending by spreading the hit across the 19 members of the single currency in an unprecedented act of European solidarity.
Ahead of the summit, nine of the EU’s 27 members backed the idea, including France, Ireland and Portugal.
But it was not to be, with northern countries, led by the Netherlands, refusing to consider it and thus reviving bitter quarrels dating back to the debt crisis between the EU’s richer and poorer members.
Leaders agreed only that finance ministers would meet again in two weeks to discuss options, leaving Rome and its allies fuming.
“This type of response is completely ignorant and this recurring pettiness completely undermines what makes up the spirit of the European Union,” said Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa, pointing to the Netherlands.
It “represents a threat to the future of the European Union,” he said.
Italian newspapers decried an “ugly Europe” with politicians wondering if the EU project had lost all sense of purpose.
“A cowardly Europe, like the one we saw yesterday, will be overwhelmed by the coronavirus,” said Antonio Tajani, the Italian former head of the European Parliament.
Analyst Eric Maurice of the Schuman foundation said the summit debacle “saw the return of a Europe divided into two camps, the North against the South, but this time with the added dimension of literal life and death.”
In other words, a battle between the historically rich countries with sound finances that are able to withstand a crisis, and the EU states deemed to be more lax about public spending such as Italy and Spain, which are more vulnerable.
As far as southern Europe is concerned, the bad guy in the story is Wopke Hoekstra, the Netherlands’ blunt talking finance minister who often criticises Italy for economic mismanagement.
Hoekstra is understood to also be speaking for Germany’s CDU, the party of German Chancellor Angela Merkel which is stuck in a tense coalition with left-leaning social-democrats and unable to openly criticise debtor nations.
Hoekstra and his allies insists that any aid to Italy and Spain would have to take place via a bailout, which comes after a crash on the debt markets and with the strict condition that countries reform.
“Are the countries now advocating corona bonds willing to relinquish sovereignty?” asked conservative Belgian MEP Johan Van Overtveldt, a former Belgian finance minister.
“Only if the answer to this question is unambiguously ‘yes’ does this discussion make any sense,” he said.
LEAVE A COMMENT Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked*
City centres to see ‘radical’ redesign amid coronavirus
Antifa: ‘Terror’ group or Trump’s straw man?
Examining the World Health Organisation
Shariah law and dispute resolution in the post-Covid-19 legal order
America’s Mis-police state
Some swing state seniors are turning on Trump
George Floyd’s death: Anger is right. Rioting is wrong