EU leaders will convene by videoconference on April 23 to push ahead with economic recovery programs, Council President Charles Michel announced Friday.
Michel hailed an agreement reached late Thursday among eurozone finance ministers on a package of programs totaling some €540 million in aid for countries, businesses and citizens suffering as a result of the coronavirus.
The deal called for the European Investment Bank to set up a fund of €200 billion in loans for cash-strapped companies, and for any eurozone country to access a credit line, up to 2 percent of its economic output, from the European Stability Mechanism, the bloc’s bailout agency, to cover emergency health costs — with no macroeconomic strings attached. The agreement also endorsed a temporary €100 billion jobless reinsurance plan proposed by the European Commission.
In reaching the deal, ministers set aside fierce differences over the creation of a joint debt instrument — so-called corona bonds or eurobonds. And there were signs that debate had not subsided, with Italian officials on Friday insisting the idea was still on the table, and opponents saying such bonds would never see the light of day.
In his statement, Michel sought to portray the compromise as demonstrating genuine solidarity among the EU’s member countries in addressing the coronavirus and the accompanying economic downturn.
“With this unparalleled package we shoulder the burden of the crisis together,” Michel said. “This compromise is aimed at quick targeted relief.”
But aspects of the plan still needs the formal endorsement of the EU’s heads of state and government. And in the case of the unemployment reinsurance scheme, legislation will be required that can bridge any differences between national governments and EU lawmakers.
A senior EU official said despite the urgency, the EU institutions and national capitals needed some time to prepare and align and coordinate their plans, and potentially avert the sort of blowback that the Commission faced earlier this week that forced officials to delay plans to publish an “exit strategy” roadmap that would help EU countries coordinate the lifting of lockdown measures.
“It is time to lay the ground for a robust economic recovery,” Michel said in his statement. “This plan has to relaunch our economies whilst promoting economic convergence in the EU. The EU budget will have to play a meaningful role here. Together with the President of the Commission, I am working on a Roadmap and Action Plan to ensure the well-being of all Europeans and to bring the EU back to strong, sustainable and inclusive growth based on a green and digital strategy.”
The 13 days until the leaders’ videoconference might also help cool tempers after the battle over corona bonds.
On Friday, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte insisted in a tweet that has position “has never changed and will never change.”
That language echoed comments late Thursday night from Dutch Finance Minister Wopke Hoekstra, an opponent of corona bonds, who told reporters. “It is actually very simple: Eurobonds is a thing I wasn’t OK with, I am not OK with and I will never be OK with.”
Hoekstra said that eurozone countries could always turn to the European Stability Mechanism, which he called the “ultimate weapon” for assistance with economic recovery but that they should face all the normal conditions, including tight macroeconomic controls, in exchange for the help.
In his statement, Michel suggested other ideas were still in play.
“It has also been agreed to explore the setting up of a temporary Recovery Fund to ensure a robust European economic recovery in all Member States,” Michel said.
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