EU crisis: BBC host shuts down French minister as Brussels power-grab sparks revolt
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BBC’s HardTalk presenter Stephen Sackur has savaged the huge EU bailout fund laid out by France and Germany, claiming they are creating a “time-bomb” for the bloc’s future. This week, Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel unveiled an unprecedented £448bn recovery fund for the countries worst hit by the coronavirus pandemic. However, the plan sparked fury from so-called “frugal four” – composed of Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Sweden – who formally rejected Macron and Merkel’s bailout on Saturday.
French finance minister Bruno Le Maire told the BBC: “The Macron and Merkel agreement would see Europe not rely on China or the US, but only on the EU.”
Sackur intervened: “You may be absolutely convinced of this, but I wonder if all the French people are, let alone the people of Germany, the Netherlands, Austria, Sweden, Denmark and a whole host of other countries.
“The Financial Times chief foreign affairs commentators Gideon Rachman wrote this week that the mutualisation of debt within the EU has always been the reddest of red lines for the Germans, the Dutch, the Finns, the Austrians and others.
“If it is pushed through now in this atmosphere of crisis it could set a time bomb under the EU because there will be a backlash, won’t there?”
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Mr Le Maire responded: “I don’t share that point of view. A large majority of European citizens want to go to the way of more independence and sovereignty.
“They don’t want to be dependent on China or the US anymore.”
Sackur fired back: “Or Brussels?”
Mr Le Maire continued: “If we want to be independent, if we want to have our own technologies for the 21st century, we need to gather our efforts.”
In Europe, the frugal four have teamed up, rejecting Macron and Merkel’s lobbying for a mammoth rescue fund.
The move by Austria, the Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden sets the stage for a showdown this week as the European Commission lays out its own plan for the EU.
Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz, who has led the opposition to the plan, told German radio on Saturday: ““We want a time limit so that it is really emergency aid and does not become a debt union through the back door.”
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The four countries also indicated that they will neither agree to a mutualization of debt nor an increase in the EU budget.
In a statement, the Austrian Chancellery said that it was crucial that all EU countries limit this emergency fund to two years.
Trying to defend the plan, Mrs Merkel stressed during the press conference alongside Mr Macron that the recovery fund should be seen as a “one-off effort”.
She added that “because of the unusual nature of the crisis, we are choosing an unusual path”.
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