EU on the brink: Coronavirus could kill bloc due to lack of solidarity warns ex-French PM

Strict lockdowns imposed across the bloc last month to stem the spread of the deadly outbreak have all but frozen economic activity and put millions of lives on hold. For weeks, EU member states have struggled to remain united in the face of the pandemic, with governments squabbling over money, medical equipment and drugs, border restrictions and trade curbs, amid tense talks laying bare their bitter divisions. “In this crisis, an absence of solidarity could lead to Europe’s death,” Mr Valls told Europe 1 radio. 

“We should not dramatise but at the same time everything could fall apart and will fall apart if the European people have the feeling that they have not been adequately protected but also abandoned during this crisis,” he said, before warning that “mass unemployment” would soon grip the EU.

The best way to avoid this collapse, he continued, is for the bloc to come up with a “strong common response” to this “serious” health crisis. 

After weeks of internal rows, EU finance ministers finally agreed on Thursday evening on half-a-trillion euros worth of support for their coronavirus-pummelled economies, but left open the question of how to finance recovery as the bloc heads for a steep recession. 

The agreement was reached after Germany and France put their feet down to end opposition from the Netherlands over attaching economic conditions to emergency credit for governments weathering the impact of the pandemic, and offered Italy – the most affected EU state – assurances that the bloc would show solidarity. 

But the deal does not mention using joint debt to finance recovery, something Italy, France and Spain have pushed strongly for but which is an absolute red line for Germany, the Netherlands, Finland and Austria. 

The idea of issuing joint debt instruments has long been a bone of contention between the more fiscally conservative north and the more spendthrift south, which has been hit the hardest by the outbreak. 

While French finance chief Bruno Le Maire said the “excellent” agreement paved the way for debt mutualisation, his Dutch counterpart, Wopke Hoekstra, stressed the opposite.  

“We are and will remain opposed to eurobonds. We think this concept will not help Europe or the Netherlands in the long-term,” Mr Hoekstra said after the talks. 

The rescue package will nonetheless bring the EU’s total fiscal response to the pandemic to 3.2 trillion euros (£2.8 trillion), the biggest in the world. It is to be approved by the bloc’s 27 national leaders in the coming days. 

The novel coronavirus, which first emerged in central China late last year, has infected over 1.5 million people across the globe and killed more than 89,000, according to a Reuters tally. 

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