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Coronavirus crisis needs a renewal of EU solidarity

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Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and European Council President Charles Michel talk at the start of the first face-to-face EU summit since the coronavirus disease outbreak, in Brussels, Belgium. Photo: Stephanie Lecocq/Pool via Reuters

Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and European Council President Charles Michel talk at the start of the first face-to-face EU summit since the coronavirus disease outbreak, in Brussels, Belgium. Photo: Stephanie Lecocq/Pool via Reuters

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Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and European Council President Charles Michel talk at the start of the first face-to-face EU summit since the coronavirus disease outbreak, in Brussels, Belgium. Photo: Stephanie Lecocq/Pool via Reuters

As we approach the 10th anniversary of one of the most grim episodes in our State's history, it is dispiriting to hear some EU member states talk of "supervision" of their neighbours' economic and social policies. For Irish people it recalls the grim days of the EU-ECB-IMF Troika "correcting the homework" of the Irish government and micromanaging our national economy.

The stance adopted by the "frugal five" - the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, Austria and Finland - lacks the spirit of generosity and sensible good neighbourliness upon which the entire European project has been built. Even though this country is not directly in the firing line here, Irish people will still feel that lack of generosity after the experience of the three years of rule by the Troika.

Weekend talks for the 27 EU leaders at their summit in Brussels posed huge problems. There was a huge divergence of interests in the interlinked items of the €1tn seven-year EU budget plan and the €750bn coronavirus economic recovery plan. 

Obstacles to a workable compromise were compounded by the close links between the two themes rendering their separation very problematic. The long stand-off revealed a damaging north-south divide with Ireland somewhere in the middle.

The policy guiding European Commission, law-making Council of Ministers and the directly elected European Parliament are all to be commended for their efforts to defend member states' rights and uphold the fundamental principle of solidarity in the time of extraordinary crisis caused by Covid-19. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron have shown leadership on this occasion.

On the face of things we can understand the reticence of the so-called "frugal five". They are nervous about the breaking of a long-standing taboo and allowing the European Union itself to borrow on international money markets. 

These five states are equally afraid that their own citizens will see big spending by the EU as imprudent and downright dangerous. But their demands for specific supervision by any one member state of other countries' internal economic management is excessive and insulting to several countries, notably Spain and Italy, where people suffered hugely.

Reasonable efforts have been made to allay the fears of the "frugal five" in what are extraordinary times. Nobody was ever suggesting that Brussels would hand out blank cheques. The summit chairman and former Belgian prime minister Charles Michel worked hard at forging compromise.

The five refused earlier versions of president Michel's plan because they gave away too much in grants, instead of lending. In a concession to doubts about governance, Mr Michel proposed a "super emergency brake", giving any country a three-day window to trigger a review by all member states of another's spending plans.

To further entice the "frugals", Mr Michel promised to increase rebates they get on their EU budget contributions. Given the scale of the Covid-19 crisis it is time for all the EU member states to recommit to the principle of solidarity.

Irish Independent