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15th Aug 2022

EU heads struggle to find joint virus response

  • EU commission preisdent Ursula von der Leyen and secretary-general Ilze Juhansone at the videoconference with leaders (Photo: European Commission)

EU leaders wrangled over how the bloc should fight the economic fallout from the coronavirus on Thursday (26 March).

During a six-hour videoconference, EU leaders debated how they should pool resources, as Germany and the Netherlands rejected the idea of issuing of joint debt bonds.

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EU leaders passed the ball to the eurozone finance ministers to come up with proposals in two weeks on joint responses to deal with the looming recession in the EU due to the coronavirus, but without giving political guidance.

"We need to continue with our efforts with the eurogroup, it will give, within two weeks, a new report with proposals," EU Council president Charles Michel said.

On the eve of the summit, nine member states wrote to Michel calling for the creation of a common debt instrument.

However, after the meeting Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte said there are no circumstances under which his country could agree to so-called eurobonds.

Eurozone finance ministers have already discussed using an EU fund, the European Stability Mechanism, to deal with the economic consequences, and help member states to mitigate the economic shock.

They will now have to work out concrete possible measures, Michel said.

"We fully acknowledge the gravity of the socio-economic consequences of the COVID-19 crisis and will do everything necessary to meet this challenge in a spirit of solidarity," leaders said in their joint statement.

"These proposals should take into account the unprecedented nature of the Covid-19 shock affecting all our countries and our response will be stepped up," they added, without going into details.

EU commission president Ursula Von der Leyen has also argued that agreeing on an EU long-term budget should not be put off anymore.

"The strongest sign for European solidarity is a strong European budget. This will have to be discussed over the next weeks," she said.

Originally, EU leaders wold have focused on the EU budget at their regular March summit, but the spread of coronavirus rewritten the script.

EU leaders called on the presidents of the EU commission and the EU Council to draw up an exit strategy from the the corona crisis, to make sure ending lockdown measures would be more coordinated than their introduction.

"The spread of the virus determines the speed we are progressing," von der Leyen said.

She added that based on scientific advice, the commission will recommend "where and when slowly but surely these measures can be lifted".

Von der Leyen said the difficult balancing act is not to lift lockdown measures too early for the virus, and not to lift too late in terms of consequences on the economy.

EU leaders also asked the commission to come up with proposals on a "more ambitious and wide-ranging" crisis management system.

EU leaders agreed to "resolutely counter disinformation with transparent, timely and fact-based communication."

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