European Union governments were turning up the heat on the Netherlands on Thursday ahead of a meeting of finance ministers of the bloc to discuss an economic support package worth some half-a-trillion euros to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, reported Reuters.
A 16-hour video conference between the 19 finance ministers of the eurozone on a coronavirus economic rescue plan worth around €540bn (£476bn) fell through last Wednesday and had to be suspended until this Thursday amid a tough stance adopted by the Netherlands and differences over conditions that should be attached to credit issued by the eurozone bailout fund, the European Stability Mechanism.
A French official from the President Emmanuel Macron’s office lambasted the Dutch position “incomprehensible”, while German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier said France and Germany would do their utmost to accelerate the talks.
“It’s important that we take this decision today on the €500 billion 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 was quoted as saying.
“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 said.
Earlier, warning that the very future of the EU was at stake, Italy's Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte had warned in a BBC interview that the European Union risks failing amid the coronavirus global pandemic, as he urged the EU to “rise to the challenge” of what he referred to as "the biggest test since the Second World War" and take concerted efforts to extend much-needed aid to countries worst hit by the spread of the COVID-19 respiratory virus.
With analysts predicting a deep recession in Europe this year in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, the 27-nation bloc has been hammering out measures to help both governments, companies and individuals keep afloat in the volatile conditions.
Deep Divisions on Burden Sharing
Estimated to bring the EU’s total fiscal response to the epidemic to €3.2 trillion, the package has controversial elements that laid bare the deep divisions among EU countries in their approach to financial burden- sharing amid the pandemic.
The main hurdle for the talks, resumed at 1500 GMT, is the conditions under which eurozone governments are granted access to cheap credit from the eurozone bailout fund.
On this, Italy says money, if drawn, should currently go towards fielding costs of health-related issues now, while subsequently the government would observe general EU budget rules.
The Netherlands has adopted a tough stance, seeking stricter conditions, including country-specific economic criteria.
Suggesting that the differences were mainly over wording, officials have insisted it is vital for all ministers to sign up to the final report on the package.
“We were not very far. The Netherlands will need to move a bit, otherwise it won’t work again. That will be critical. There are many calls going on, at all levels,” a eurozone official involved in the talks was cited by Reuters as saying.