Sat, 06 Jun 2020

European Union finance ministers have agreed on a 500-billion-euro ($550 billion) stimulus plan to shore up paralyzed economies impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

After weeks of bickering that exposed deep divisions within the eurozone, ministers on April 9 settled on a trio of measures to support workers, businesses, and states in their response to the outbreak.

EU Economy Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni described the agreement in a tweet as 'a package of unprecedented size to support the health system, redundancy funds, liquidity for businesses and the fund for a revival plan.'

The main component of the package is 240 billion euros of emergency cheap credit from the eurozone bailout fund, the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), to provide funding to indebted countries, particularly Italy and Spain.

The package also provides more guarantees from the European Investment Bank to increase lending to companies, and a scheme to subsidize wages so that firms cut hours and not jobs.

But the agreement does not mention the issuance of joint European debt -- so-called coronabonds -- something heavily indebted Italy, Spain, and France demanded but which wealthier countries led by Germany, the Netherlands, Finland, and Austria strongly opposed.

Earlier on April 9, German Chancellor Angela Merkel reiterated that issuing joint debt was not on the table, even as Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte warned that the European project would be put in jeopardy if countries did not share the burden of countering the fallout from the pandemic.

Instead, the compromise agreement says the bloc's 27 national leaders can determine whether 'innovative financial instruments' should be used.

Resistance from the Netherlands over the use of the ESM nearly torpedoed the package. The Hague insisted on tough reform conditions, a proposal that was a non-starter for highly indebted Italy and Spain. This resistance was overcome as Germany and France applied pressure to ensure conditions for tapping the bailout fund were kept to a minimum.

The stimulus plan comes on top of hundreds of billions of euros EU member states and the European Commission have devoted to responding to coronavirus-battered economies.

Based on reporting by AFP, dpa, and Reuters

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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