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COVID-19

‘Historic day’: How the EU agreed its €750 billion rescue plan to save shattered economies

EU leaders emerged from a marathon four-day and four-night summit Tuesday to celebrate what they boasted was a historic rescue plan for economies left shattered by the coronavirus epidemic.

'Historic day': How the EU agreed its €750 billion rescue plan to save shattered economies
Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez (L), French President Emmanuel Macron (C) and German Chancellor Angela Merkel (R) look into documents during an EU summit in Brussels on July 20th, 2020. Photo: AF

The 750-billion-euro ($858-billion) deal was sealed after intense negotiation that saw a threats of a French walkout and a Hungarian veto – and fierce opposition from the Netherlands and Austria to too generous a package.

“These were of course, difficult negotiations in very difficult times for all Europeans,” EU Council Chief Charles Michel, whose job was to guide the tortuous talks over more than 90 hours.

He dubbed the summit “a marathon which ended in success for all 27 member states, but especially for the people”.

The package, seen by AFP, was made possible by the crucial backing of Germany and France and includes the biggest ever joint borrowing by the 27 members of the bloc, something that had been resisted by Berlin and the so-called “frugal” northern states for generations.

The deal is a special victory for French President Emmanuel Macron who came to office in 2017 committed to strengthen the European Union, but had struggled to deliver against member states with less ambition for the  seven-decade-old EU project.

“This is a historic change for Europe,” Macron told reporters in a joint press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, speaking of her relief that Europe had, in her eyes, shown itself equal to “The greatest crisis in the history of the European Union”.

'Frugals' fight

The package will send tens of billions of euros to countries hardest hit by the virus, most notably heavily indebted Spain and Italy that had lobbied hard for a major gesture from their EU partners.

Their call for solidarity was met with the fierce opposition of the “Frugals”, a group of small, northern nations led by Netherlands, who believed strongly that the stimulus package was unnecessary.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez hailed “a Marshall Plan for Europe”, that would boost Spain's suffering economy by 140 billion euros over the next six years.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel (R) and French President Emmanuel Macron (L) leave after their joint video press conference at the end of the European summit at the EU headquarters in Brussels on July 21th, 2020. Photo: AFP

But Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the Netherlands denied that the advent of joint borrowing for the rescue heralded the start of what he had warned of before the talks – a “transfer union” with a permanent north south transfer of wealth.

“This is a one off, there is a clear necessity for this given the excessive situation,” he told reporters.

The frugals were also deeply apprehensive of sending money to southern countries that they see as too lax with public spending.

To meet their concerns, payouts from the package will come with important strings attached – a hard pill to swallow for Rome and Madrid who deeply resisted anything resembling the harsh bailouts imposed on Greece, Portugal or Ireland during the debt crisis.

The frugals were also enticed with heavy rebates on their EU contributions, furthering a practice first offered to Britain decades ago, when it was still a member.

'Rule of Law'

The recovery package will complement the unprecedented monetary stimulus at the European Central Bank, that has largely succeeded in reassuring the financial markets despite a catastrophic recession in Europe.

Overall, the deal will dole out 390 billion in the form of grants to pandemic-hit countries.

That was lower than an original 500 billion euro proposal made by France and Germany. Another 360 billion euros was to be disbursed in loans, repayable by the member state.

The stimulus payments will not be blank cheques to member states. 

Spending will be closely controlled and must be devoted to policies seen as compatible with European priorities, including politically difficult economic reforms as well as the environment.

The European Commission, the EU's executive arm, will be in charge of distributing the funds, with the 27 member states able to turn down a spending plan if a weighted majority of them decide to intervene.

The rescue package was agreed along with the EU's long-term budget, bringing the agreed spending to 1.8 trillion euros through 2027.

The plan was nearly upended by Hungary and Poland due to a demand that EU payouts be tied to the “Rule of Law”, Brussels jargon for upholding laws on freedom of speech and an independent judiciary.

Budapest and Warsaw are under fire for offending EU norms, but a proposal to tie the EU budget to those concerns was watered down to the satisfaction of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and his Polish counterpart.

The package now requires more technical negotiations among member states as well as a ratification by the European Parliament that could happen as soon as Thursday.

Member comments

  1. So basically when countries suffer thousands of deaths and economic breakdowns, we as Europe tell them “here is a loan, i want you to add it to your debt, and i want you to lower wages and pensions in your country, tax your companies even more etc. etc.”, otherwise i will let you decay because “it is your fault”.

  2. Anyone who calls this agreement a historic rescue plan is naive, at best. Six months after this pandemic began the best these out-of-touch elite can do is offer loans and grants to implement a wish list of EU programs. Little if any will make its way to the small businesses who need it the most. While the US is working on its THIRD package of assistance these smug EU leaders finally have agreed to a package that will have so many strings attached and benefit their pet projects that Italy and Spain will be no better off. This is nothing but a photo-op by a bunch of globalists who are intent on creating a EUROPE no one recognizes. The EU has just shown once again how moribund it is in the face of crisis when technocrats are at the wheel. Time for Italy, Spain, and others to realize the EU should be dissolved in favor of reinstating a country’s sovereignty and creating a trading block to do what the EU was intended to do before it morphed into a cancerous, bureaucracy that imposess more and more control.

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TRAVEL NEWS

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

The mandatory EU-wide mask requirement for air travel is set to be dropped from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still require passengers to wear masks on some or all flights

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

Europe-wide facemask rules on flights are set to be ditched as early as next week in light of new recommendations from health and air safety experts.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) dropped recommendations for mandatory mask-wearing in airports and during flights in updated Covid-19 safety measures for travel issued on Wednesday, May 11th.

The new rules are expected to be rolled out from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still continue to require the wearing of masks on some or all of flights. And the updated health safety measures still say that wearing a face mask remains one of the best ways to protect against the transmission of the virus.

The joint EASA/ECDC statement reminded travellers that masks may still be required on flights to destinations in certain countries that still require the wearing of masks on public transport and in transport hubs.

It also recommends that vulnerable passengers should continue to wear a face mask regardless of the rules, ideally an FFP2/N95/KN95 type mask which offers a higher level of protection than a standard surgical mask.

“From next week, face masks will no longer need to be mandatory in air travel in all cases, broadly aligning with the changing requirements of national authorities across Europe for public transport,” EASA executive director Patrick Ky said in the statement. 

“For passengers and air crews, this is a big step forward in the normalisation of air travel. Passengers should however behave responsibly and respect the choices of others around them. And a passenger who is coughing and sneezing should strongly consider wearing a face mask, for the reassurance of those seated nearby.”  

ECDC director Andrea Ammon added: “The development and continuous updates to the Aviation Health Safety Protocol in light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic have given travellers and aviation personnel better knowledge of the risks of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and its variants. 

“While risks do remain, we have seen that non-pharmaceutical interventions and vaccines have allowed our lives to begin to return to normal. 

“While mandatory mask-wearing in all situations is no longer recommended, it is important to be mindful that together with physical distancing and good hand hygiene it is one of the best methods of reducing transmission. 

“The rules and requirements of departure and destination states should be respected and applied consistently, and travel operators should take care to inform passengers of any required measures in a timely manner.”

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