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Merkel helps to defuse EU 'coronabonds' row


German Chancellor Angela Merkel (Bernd von Jutrczenka/Pool via AP)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel (Bernd von Jutrczenka/Pool via AP)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel (Bernd von Jutrczenka/Pool via AP)

EU leaders have taken an important step towards defusing a damaging north-south row over how to manage the economic damage caused by the coronavirus lockdown.

As Europe faces its deepest ever economic recession, the 27 leaders spoke via videolink about a potential compromise over objections by the Netherlands, Germany and Nordic countries to the EU itself taking on coronavirus debts. This is demanded by the worst-hit countries, Italy, Spain and France, and supported by others, including Ireland.

Earlier attempts to break the deadlock worsened relations between the two blocs and a timely intervention by German Chancellor Angela Merkel paved the way for an emerging compromise.

The leaders have tasked the policy-guiding EU Commission with elaborating its draft plans to use the EU's budget to borrow at the lowest possible interest on world markets and distribute a mix of low-interest loans and grants to combat the virus fallout.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the talks' outcome was encouraging. Irish officials said the Taoiseach backed calls for "a swift and ambitious EU response" to coronavirus and stressed the acute difficulties in agriculture caused by a collapse in exports.

Mr Varadkar also urged agreement on airport health controls to allow travel to open up again without undue risk, and greater co-operation in providing medicines and equipment to help fend off a threatened virus second wave.

Going into the talks, Italy and Spain had moderated demands for the EU to issue loan bonds - popularly called 'coronabonds' - and instead urged a European Recovery Fund for grants, not loans.

The mood was helped by the EU leaders signing off on a €560bn package of measures already proposed by the bloc's finance ministers on April 10 for soft-loans and easier short-term credit.

Ms Merkel had an important intervention ahead of the video summit, saying these are "extraordinary times" and without solidarity Europe "does not exist".

But she still ruled out "coronabonds" and much of the detail still remains to be worked out by the commission in the coming weeks.

EU leaders will hold further talks in June.

Irish Independent