Is it really worth risking the Europe project just to fight old battles? Italy and Spain urgently need money that countries like Germany or the Netherlands can provide to show their solidarity.
It’s just money
A testimony to poverty: while the corona virus is killing people, EU finance ministers argue bitterly about compromises in terms of formulas and details of loan conditions. Politicians spent 16 hours on Wednesday night discussing aid packages for clumsy member states. Maundy Thursday, the talks should continue. Hopefully there will be some compromise in the end, but the damage has already been done. In the worst crisis in EU history, finance ministers would have to demonstrate solidarity and determination. But the unpleasant haggling testifies above all to distrust and stubbornness.
Citizens in countries such as Italy and Spain rightly demand that the EU help its highly indebted governments to finance stimulus packages after the pandemic. If Brussels fails to meet these expectations, voters will turn to anti-European populists. On the other hand, citizens in countries like Germany and the Netherlands are – justifiably rightly so – concerned when debating corona bonds and the communitization of debts. When the Germans gave up their beloved mark for the euro, the government promised them that the monetary union would not lead to a transfer union: All states would continue to stand alone for their liabilities. A breach of this promise would give European opponents a massive boost in financially strong countries like Germany.
Disappointment in the south or distrust in the north could tear the Union apart: out of fear of populists at home, the governments in Brussels are no longer looking for solutions to problems together, but are working against each other. It is clear that challenges such as climate change and the rise of China urgently require Europe, not less, but more.
At the same time, the Corona crisis could also strengthen Europe’s cohesion: if it is possible to find answers that are acceptable in both the north and south. But to do this, governments have to disarm rhetorically and be flexible. Italy and Spain must stop fighting old battles in the pandemic. Even in the sovereign debt crisis, these countries demanded joint European bonds, for which all states are fully liable. Even then, Germany and the Netherlands could not agree to this.
Italy and Spain need a lot of money quickly – and the financially strong states should guarantee that they get it. Those who reject common bonds have to show their solidarity in a different way. Italy and Spain could tap into the euro bailout fund, or the new EU budget could provide massive aid and guarantees. States like Germany would then have to make more money available to the rescue package and the EU budget.
The support must be provided with conditions that are as relaxed as possible: This is where the pedantic Dutch government in particular has to move. Because funds for Italy are not alms for a sinner who has strayed from the right path, but a requirement of solidarity – and an investment in Europe’s future. Otherwise Europe may have no future.
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