EU finance ministers have struck a deal to unlock €500bn (£438bn) of EU support for the countries most affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Mário Centeno, chairman of the Eurogroup, announced the deal after Giuseppe Conte, Italy’s prime minister, warned against the potential disintegration of the Bloc.
The deal comes during a worldwide economic crisis as the coronavirus pandemic has only worsened. Kristalina Georgieva, the head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), warned that the world is facing the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s, and stated that the coronavirus pandemic would turn economic growth “sharply negative” this year. The European Central Bank (ECB) had urged that the EU may need up to €1.5tn (£1.3tn) to handle the crisis, a significant amount more than the agreed figure. Despite this, Bruno Le Maire, the French Finance Minister, has praised the agreement as the Bloc’s most important economic plan in its history. He tweeted: “Europe has decided and is ready to meet the gravity of the crisis”.
France and Italy had initially demanded the issuing of so-called ‘coronabonds’, in which EU countries would share the cost of the pandemic. EU ministers refused to accept such a deal at the talks in Brussels. However, the relief deal includes the EU’s bailout fund, the European Stability Mechanism, making €240bn available to the countries under the most pressure from debt.
The EU has faced criticism throughout the pandemic as divisions have been exposed within the bloc. The northern nations, led by Germany and the Netherlands, have been accused by Italy and Spain of not doing enough to help during their hour of need. Mr Conte described the crisis as “the biggest test since the Second World War”, and said the EU must rise to the challenge.
Despite the exposing of divisions within the EU, the agreed relief deal will come as a small amount of good news in a time shrouded in worldwide grief. As the death toll begins to drop in Spain, one of the worst hit countries in Europe, their prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, vowed his country would have “total victory” over the virus. The pandemic has seen the unity of many nations and people as, for the first time in many years, the world faces a common threat. The economic and social effects of the outbreak will haunt the international community long after the virus is contained. Though cracks may be emerging within the EU, the time is right for the Bloc and the world to step up, come together and tackle the virus united and, in doing so, begin to help the world mourn and recover from the many losses inflicted by the pandemic.