BRUSSELS – The leaders of the European Union failed to agree on a coordinated economic and fiscal response to the coronavirus crisis after a video summit on Thursday.
After deliberating for more than five hours in a “dense and intense” political debate, the European Council President Charles Michel said that the member states needed to continue working with the Eurogroup in order to reach an agreement on the bloc’s response to the crisis and the massive economic damage associated with it.
“We took the decision to continue all our efforts based on a strong commitment,” Michel said. “We need to continue our efforts with the Eurogroup, which will give a new report within two weeks.”
On Tuesday, finance ministers sent a proposal to the Council to create a specific credit line for the pandemic channeled through the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), which has 410,000 million euros in lending capacity and could grant countries funds of up to 2% of their GDP.
The main sticking point at the meeting was over a proposal to create so-called “Corona bonds,” which would entail issuing joint bonds to help stimulate the bloc’s economy from the slowdown caused by the coronavirus.
Nine countries, including Italy and Spain, the two worst affected nations, as well as France, are in favor, but Germany, the Netherlands, Austria and Finland are opposed to the move.
More than 8,215 people have died in Italy, while over 4,145 have died in Spain.
During the meeting, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte called on the rest of the European Union to form a joint task force to fight the coronavirus crisis and respond within 10 days.
“The consequences of coronavirus should not be addressed in the coming months, but tomorrow morning,” Conte said during the videoconference, government sources told EFE.
Conte also called for a unified and determined reaction from all EU member states to mitigate the economic consequences of the coronavirus, saying that this is “a war that must be fought together.”
Michel echoed those words, saying that the bloc’s unity and solidarity needed to be mobilized in order to overcome the crisis.
“No country alone can win,” he said.
The European Commission President, Ursula Von Der Leyen, who joined Michel for the virtual press conference from her own office, said that the measures already taken to “help the economy to hibernate and fight the crisis in the health sector” needed time to “sink in.”
German chancellor Angela Merkel said in her own statement after the summit that coronabonds were “not on the agenda” for Germany, and insisted that Europe was better equipped than in previous crises.