EU rift erupts as furious row on coronavirus lockdown measures threatens Brussels unity
As coronavirus continues to spread across the bloc, the most affected countries such as Italy, Spain and France are looking to extend lockdown measures to continue in their fight against COVID-19. France crossed the threshold of 10,000 deaths on Tuesday and implemented stricter measures on its citizens’ ability to go out for exercise. In Italy, the lockdown will probably remain in place until a vaccine is found.
Massimo Andreoni, Head of Infectious Diseases Unit at the Policlinico Tor Vergata told Euronews: “It would take a long time to make millions and millions of doses of vaccine for distribution around the world.
“At best, we can say that it would take 18 months to make a vaccine.”
The Czech Republic Parliament also voted to prolong the nationwide state of emergency to April 30.
But both Denmark and Norway have announced plans to lift some of their physical distancing measures.
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Norway will allow daycare facilities and primary schools to reopen from April 20.
Nurseries and primary schools in Denmark will reopen on April 15.
And it is not just on lockdown measures that the bloc is currently divided.
European Union finance ministers failed to break a deadlock in all-night talks on more support for their coronavirus-hit economies, with north-south divisions flaring and straining the bloc’s unity.
A final draft agreement presented to the 27-minister videoconference at 0400 GMT on Wednesday morning ran into two main sticking points – conditions for access to emergency credit lines in the eurozone’s bailout fund, and the notion of issuing joint debt by the bloc.
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The eurozone’s European Stability Mechanism (ESM) could offer standby credit lines worth up to 2% of a country’s economic output, with Italy leading the southern camp in demanding free access to the money.
But the Netherlands represented the fiscally conservative northern countries calling for more specific economic conditions.
The draft text, which was seen by Reuters, said the existing ESM precautionary credit lines could be “adjusted in light of this specific challenge” – the spread of the coronavirus – and that countries “requesting support would commit to using this credit line to support domestic financing of costs strictly related to the COVID 19 crisis.”
It went on to say: “Afterwards, euro area member states would strengthen economic and financial fundamentals, consistent with the EU economic and fiscal coordination and surveillance frameworks, including any flexibility applied by the competent EU institutions.”
Officials who took part in the meeting and diplomatic sources briefed on it said Italy was leaning to accept that wording on macroeconomic conditionality but the Dutch did not think it went far enough.
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In the end, both rejected the text.
The draft agreement does not mention directly issuing joint debt, let alone the politically charged word “coronabonds”.
It does, however, refer to a Recovery Fund that could be discussed in the future and “innovative financial instruments” as possible sources of finance.
The phrase “innovative financial instruments” has previously been used by advocates of debt mutualisation to move away from the divisive notion of “coronabonds” while putting down in writing effectively the same idea.
Diplomatic sources said France was also initially calling for a more specific reference to issuing joint debt but then got on board with further, watered-down drafts in an effort to secure an EU compromise.
Germany and Spain were also in favour of such an agreement, but Austria, Sweden and Denmark sided with the Netherlands, the sources said.
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