“We’ve let Italy and Greece down badly during the immigration crisis – to say ‘your shores, your problem’ is a scandal. I really hope we can extend our solidarity beyond the coronavirus crisis.” Whether the ‘European family’ is real or just a euphemism for commercial opportunity reveals itself in crises like these.
Eichholtz is aware that the Netherlands’ reaction came across as cruel. “It was not great for our reputation but I think things will move in the right direction now.” The problem needs to be solved though – epidemiologically and economically. The Netherlands had initially insisted that the deployment of the ESM emergency fund be tied to far-reaching economic reform in Italy – the type of austerity that many Italian politicians fear might hit the country harder than COVID-19 itself.
Now, EU finance ministers have approved €240 billion in loans for the hardest-hit countries, so long as the funds are spent exclusively on health-related programmes. The Netherlands were successful in preventing the issue of Eurobonds, which are still favoured by Southern European politicians and hundreds of economists in a recent open letter in the Financial Times.
“I think the outcome is satisfactory and pragmatic. Meaningful amounts of money will flow to the countries that need it most in their recovery from the COVID-19 crisis, while countries that don’t need aid will fend for themselves. The strings that would normally be attached to this aid package are loosened.”