- After talks ran long at a European Union summit, EU leaders agreed to a massive $859 billion stimulus plan which will address economic impacts from the coronavirus.
- The plan will provide a mix of grants and loans over the next four years to help businesses recover, roll out new measures to reform economies, and invest in protecting against “future crises.”
- The original plan would have provided more grant money to struggling countries, but richer nations rejected that idea and only agreed to the current plan after an additional series of concessions.
- Those concessions include cuts made to projects covering health, refugees, and the climate.
What’s in the Deal?
The European Union agreed to a massive $859 million stimulus package on Monday meant to address the economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The package is part of a $2.1 trillion budget the EU approved for 2021-2027. While $1.3 trillion of that goes directly to the EU’s budget and is part of its normal negotiations every seven years, the portion provided for coronavirus relief is quite extraordinary.
In fact, this package is so important that it’s expected to help Europe avoid what could be its worst economic blow since World War 2.
According to the final agreement, the package will largely be spent over the next four years and will include both loans and grants that will be sent to member nations. It will also focus on providing funding in three main ways: helping businesses recover, rolling out new measures to reform economies, and investing in a goal to protect against “future crises.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she had “no regrets” on the concessions given to reach an agreement, saying, “We think we’ve acted responsibility in agreeing to these compromises,”
Others, however, were less pleased, and one anonymous official described the agreement as a “bittersweet victory” because, in order to reach a compromise, cuts were made to projects covering healthcare and refugees. The finished deal also doesn’t include expenditure on many research and climate projects.
Long Road to Reaching This Deal
While EU leaders have lauded the passage of the deal, the process of reaching an agreement was tedious at best.
For one, talks ran long. The summit to discuss the package began on Friday and was only scheduled to last through the weekend, but it ended up stretching into Monday.
That’s because a number of rich, northern countries known as the “Frugal Four” slowed down those talks after opposing the EU’s original plan. The “Frugal Four” include the Netherlands, Denmark, Austria, and Sweden. Over the weekend, Finland also allied with their opposition to the original plan.
That plan would have allocated €500 billion in grant money, meaning the “Frugal Four” would have had to pay in more as net contributors to the EU.
Their main objection was over how much should be given to countries like Italy and Spain—countries that have been hit inordinately hard by the coronavirus. They also questioned how much control those countries should have over how the funds distributed to them will be spent.
During the summit, Dutch leaders argued that Italy and Spain were to blame for struggling to recover because they had other economic difficulties prior to the pandemic. The Dutch then added that they did not want to send money to those countries without guarantee that such a move would provide economic reform to the EU in the long run.
Much of the specifics of the debate boiled down to two questions: How much should be given in grants, and how much should be given in loans?
More grant money, for example, would mean less debt for countries receiving aid as they wouldn’t have to repay the money given to them. On the other hand, countries would be expected to repay loans.
After denouncing the original plan, the “Frugal Four” returned with a counter-offer that proposed only handing out €375 billion in grants.
The situation in itself was already quite unique. Typically, in times of crisis, the EU has only offered loans. Still, Spain argued that the EU couldn’t afford to give out less than €400 billion in grants for this specific emergency.
As a basis for that argument, it said that any failure to reach an agreement would result in a “two-speed” economic recovery, with richer countries bouncing back faster than struggling countries. In turn, Spain stressed that such a failure would place further strain on the EU as a whole.
From there, European Council President Charles Michel proposed a compromise of €390 billion in grant money ($446 billion USD).
The rest of that overall $859 billion would then go to low-interest loans.
Notably, the compromise also included billions in rebates to the “Frugal Four” for their contribution and with that, the four agreed to the deal.
EU Leaders Praise the Deal
Michel described the agreement, which was the single-biggest joint borrowing plan ever agreed to by the EU, as the first time that EU member countries were “jointly enforcing our economies against the crisis.”
“We did it! We have reached a deal on the recovery package and the European budget,” he said. “This is a strong deal. And most importantly, the right deal for Europe right now.”
French president Emmanuel Macron describing the deal as a “historic day for Europe.”
Hard hit countries like Spain, Italy, and even Portugal also appeared to be content with the final grant figure.
“While it’s true that it could have had a slightly bigger dimension, the recovery plan is robust enough to respond to the current estimates of the coronavirus crisis,” Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa said.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (CNN Business) (BBC)
200 Children Seeking Asylum in the U.K. Are Missing
The missing include at least 13 children under the age of 16.
Children Missing From Hotels
There are 200 asylum-seeking children missing from government care in the United Kingdom according to the parliamentary undersecretary of state at the Home Office.
When children are seeking asylum in the U.K. alone or separated from their parents, the government puts them up in hotel rooms for temporary accommodation. They have done so since 2021 and have temporarily accommodated 4,600 children in that time. However, Simon Murray, the parliamentary undersecretary of state at the Home Office, said that 200 of the children placed in those hotels are missing, including at least 13 who are under the age of 16.
In response to this information, a collection of more than 100 charities sent a letter to the Prime Minister demanding the end of the procedure of placing kids in hotels over safety concerns. The letter says that these children are at risk of trafficking and exploitation by staying in these hotels alone.
Other officials have echoed these concerns, claiming these hotels are targets for organized crime where people use these vulnerable children for labor or trafficking.
Parliament Calls Incident “Horrific”
Murray told the House of Lords on Monday that despite the media reports, his department does not know of any kidnapping cases, though they are investigating. He went on to say there are many reasons why children go missing.
However, lawmakers were not appeased by Murray’s assurances. In a later debate, one member of Parliament called the missing cases “horrific” and another said that it was “putting children at risk.” The children’s commissioner for England also reportedly chimed in asking for, quote “assurances on the steps being taken to safeguard the children.”
Murray went on to say that the use of hotels for asylum-seeking children will hopefully be phased out as soon as possible but did not give a timeline.
The nonprofit Refugee Council called on the government in a tweet to spare no expense in the location of these missing kids.
See what others are saying: (Washington Post) (The Guardian) (The Telegraph)
100,000 U.K. Nurses Launch Biggest Strike in NHS History
Opposition leader Keir Starmer called the strike “a badge of shame on this government.”
The NHS Grinds to a Halt
Some 100,000 members of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), the United Kingdom’s largest nursing union, launched a historic 12-hour strike Thursday after the government refused to negotiate on higher pay.
The work stoppage, which spans England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, is only the second in the RCN’s 106-year history and the largest the NHS has ever seen. It marks the breaking point for many underpaid nurses and the culmination of a years-long decline in the NHS’s quality of care, put under increasing stress by severe staffing shortages.
Although most NHS staff in England and Wales received a pay rise of around £1,400 this year, worth about 4% on average for nurses, they say it has not kept up with inflation as Britain plunges deeper into a cost-of-living crisis.
When inflation is accounted for, nurses’ pay dropped 1.2% every year from 2010 to 2017, according to the Health Foundation.
Meanwhile, the number of patients waiting for care has reached a record 7.2 million in England, or over one in eight residents, more than double what it was seven years ago.
In July, the cross-party Commons Health and Social Care Select Committee estimated the staffing shortfall could be as high as 50,000 nurses and 12,000 doctors, what one MP called the “greatest workforce crisis in history.”
Many nurses argue that boosting pay will help hospitals recruit more staff.
The RCN demanded a pay raise 5% above the retail rate of inflation, which amounts to a 19% increase, but both Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and the government’s health secretary have claimed that’s not affordable.
During Thursday’s strike, partial staffing continued to remain open for urgent care such as chemotherapy, kidney dialysis, and children’s accident and neonatal units.
Sunak and Starmer Brawl in Parliament
Labor leader Keir Starmer grilled Sunak during Wednesday’s Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) on the upcoming strike.
“Tomorrow will be the first-ever nationwide nurse’s strike,” he said. “All the Prime Minister has to do to stop that is to open the door and discuss pay with them. If he did, the whole country would breathe a sigh of relief. Why won’t he?”
“We have consistently spoken to all the unions involved in all the pay disputes that there are,” Sunak replied. “Last year, when everyone else in the public sector had a public sector pay freeze, the nurses received a three-percent pay rise.”
Starmer fired back: “Nurses going on strike is a badge of shame for this government. Instead of showing leadership, he’s playing games with people’s health.”
Sunak called Starmer’s demand that he reopen negotiations with the RCN “just simply a political formula for avoiding taking a position on this issue.”
“If he thinks the strikes are wrong, he should say so,” Sunak said. “If he thinks it’s right that pay demands of nineteen percent are met, then he should say so. What’s weak, Mr. Speaker, is he’s not strong enough to stand up to the union.”
While Starmer has called on Sunak to negotiate with the RCN, he has not explicitly backed the 19% pay raise himself.
Unless the government returns to the bargaining table, the RCN plans to launch a second round of strikes on Dec. 20 to be followed by ambulance strikes that Wednesday and the next.
If the government still refuses to budge, the union said in a statement that nurses will strike for longer periods in more places starting in January, disrupting more health services.
Other industries are also set to see work stoppages this month, including workers on railways, buses, highways, and borders, as well as teachers, postal workers, baggage handlers, and paramedics.
See what others are saying: (BBC) (CNN) (The Guardian)
Fortnite Developer Sued By Parents for Making the Game as “Addictive as Possible”
One child mentioned in the lawsuit played over 7,700 rounds of Fortnite in two years.
Epic Games Sued
A Quebec City judge recently approved a 2019 class-action lawsuit accusing Fortnite developer Epic Games of deliberately making Fortnite addictive.
The parents who brought forward the lawsuit claim their children have become so obsessed with the game that in some cases, they’ve stopped eating, showering, or socializing. The lawsuit claims that these kids have played thousands of games since Fortnite’s release in 2017. In one example, a teenager played over 7,700 games in less than two years.
If the lawsuit succeeds, players addicted to Fortnite living in Quebec since September 2017 could receive compensation. The plaintiff’s attorney, Philippe Caron, reports that over 200 parents outside the lawsuit have reached out to him, saying their child’s well-being has diminished since downloading Fortnite. He told The Washington Post that they are very confident about their case.
Epic Games Responds
“We plan to fight this in court,” Natalie Munoz, a spokesperson for Epic Games said to The Post, “We believe the evidence will show that this case is meritless.”
Munoz also said that Fortnite does allow parents to supervise their child’s playtime and require permission for purchases.
The parents involved in the lawsuit are claiming that they were not aware of the dangers playing Fortnite could pose for their children.
“If she had been informed by the defendants of the risks and dangers associated with the use of FORTNITE,” the lawsuit says of one guardian. “She would have categorically refused to allow the game to be downloaded.”