Portugal’s prime minister António Costa has launched an extraordinary attack on Dutch finance minister Wopke Hoekstra, one of the four key moneymen standing in the way of a concerted European plan to face the economic recession caused by Covid-19.
The moment came during the tense EU ‘summit’ that went ahead yesterday via videolink.
Hoekstra suggested the EU “should investigate countries like Spain that say they have no budgetary margin to deal with the effects of the crisis provoked by the new coronavirus in spite of the fact that the eurozone has grown for seven consecutive years”.
Costa told journalists after the six-hour long meeting – which ended without answers – that the discourse was “repugnant”.
“No one wants to hear the Dutch finance minister say what was said in 2009, 2010 and 2011. Spain did not import the virus. The virus hits everyone equally. If one country in the European Union thinks it can resolve the problem by leaving the virus in other countries, it doesn’t understand what the European Union is…”
Overviewing the summit in general, Expresso said the only thing that came out of this latest meeting of EU leaders is the notion that four countries “are resisting corona bonds (the majority plan to deal with looming recession click here) and that more than ever, the disunion between European countries could result in a tragically ‘repugnant’ ending”.
President Macron has also warned this kind of political reaction to the crisis “could spell the end of the EU” – though the BBC’s Europe editor Katie Adler insists it is “far too simplistic to write off the European Union.
“When EU countries closed their national borders on one another during the 2015 migrant crisis, many predicted the bloc’s demise but the EU muddled through”, she wrote overnight. “It’s highly likely to scrape by again now, too”.
But how relations between fuming southern countries and the northern ‘frugals’ return to civility is unclear.
As Italian PM Guiseppe Conte refused to sign his name to the final summit declaration, PM Costa didn’t stop short in his tirade.
He ‘let rip’ in front of waiting journalists with an overworked signer translating his sense of outrage for all those that could not hear it.
Mr Costa accused Hoekstra of “absolute unconsciousness” and a “recurring meanness” that “completely undermines what the spirit of the EU is” and which (therefore) is a threat to the future of the EU itself.
“If the EU wants to survive, it is unacceptable for any politician, from whichever country, to give this kind of response in the context of the pandemic that we’re living through”, he stormed.
“If we don’t respect one another, don’t understand one another, lack the capacity to respond in unison to a common challenge, then no one understands anything about the European Union”.
It was the kind of pasting that will elevate Mr Costa in the eyes of all those countries pushing for corona bonds as a way to get through the difficult months of economic pain.
Today over twitter he was already getting praise for putting Holland in its place.
But what yesterday’s fairly disastrous meeting shows is that answers, whatever they are, will be some time in coming.
Said the BBC: “For ordinary people, frightened for their health, the safety of their loved ones, worrying about their rent and feeding their family after businesses shut down, the idea that Europe’s leaders spent six hours on Thursday night, squabbling over the wording of their summit conclusions in order to defer a key decision over coronavirus funds, will be incomprehensible”.
Italian Twitter, for example, “was littered with expletives on Thursday – and those were just the posts from politicians”.
But the bottom line is that EU leaders are going to ask Eurogroup finance ministers to explore the subject further and report back in two weeks’ time.
Is the case for corona bonds still ‘alive’? That’s a difficult one. Angela Merkel for example has trashed it totally, telling reporters: “You are aware of the letters from some member states who have imagined or are imagining corona bonds (click here). We have said from both the German and other sides that this is not … the view of all EU countries.”
Writes Politico “Merkel said she preferred an alternative plan to use the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), which was created in 2012 to help eurozone countries in serious financial distress.
“With the ESM we have a crisis instrument that opens up many possibilities for us that do not call into question the basic principles of our common and responsible action,” she said.