EU Leaders Agree to $859 Billion Coronavirus Relief Package Under Larger Economic Budget Deal
- 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)
95-Year-Old Woman Dies After Police Tases Her in Nursing Home
The officer involved was suspended with pay and charged with assault.
A 95-year-old Australian woman whom police tasered in a nursing home last week has reportedly died from her injuries.
Clare Nowland, who had dementia and required a walking frame to stand up and move, was living at the Yallambee Lodge in Cooma in southeastern Australia.
At about 4:15 a.m. on May 17, police and paramedics responded to a report of a woman standing outside her room with a steak knife.
They encountered Nowland, then reportedly tried to negotiate with her for several minutes, but she didn’t drop the knife.
The five-foot-two, 95-pound woman walked toward the two officers “at a slow pace,” police said at a news conference, so one of them tasered her.
She fell to the floor and reportedly suffered a fractured skull and a severe brain bleed, causing her to be hospitalized in critical condition.
Nowland passed away in a hospital surrounded by her family, the New South Wales police confirmed in a statement today.
After a week-long investigation, the police force also said that the senior constable involved would appear in court next week to face charges of recklessly causing grievous bodily harm, assault occasioning actual bodily harm, and common assault.
NSW police procedure states that tasers should not be used against elderly or disabled people absent exceptional circumstances.
Following the incident, community members, activists, and disability rights advocates expressed bewilderment and anger at what they called an unnecessary use of force, and some are now questioning why law enforcement took so long to prosecute the officer involved.
See what others are saying: (Reuters) (The New York Times) (CNN)
U.K. Police Face Backlash After Arresting Anti-Monarchy Protesters
London Mayor Sadiq Khan said that some of the arrests “raise questions” and “investigations are ongoing.”
The Public Order Act
A controversial protest crackdown law in the U.K. is facing criticism after dozens of anti-monarchy protesters were arrested during the coronation ceremony in London over the weekend.
The law, dubbed the “Public Order Act” was passed roughly a week ahead of the coronation for King Charles III. It gives police more power to restrict protesters and limits the tactics protesters can use in public spaces. It was condemned by human rights groups upon its passing, and is facing a new round of heat after 52 people were arrested over coronation protests on Saturday.
In a statement, the Metropolitan Police said protesters were arrested for public order offenses, breach of the peace and conspiracy to cause a public nuisance. The group said it gave advance warning that its “tolerance for any disruption, whether through protest or otherwise, will be low and that we would deal robustly with anyone intent on undermining the celebration.”
It is currently unclear how many of those arrested were detained specifically for violating the Public Order Act, however, some of those arrested believe the new law was used against them.
“Make no mistake. There is no longer a right to peaceful protest in the UK,” Graham Smith, the CEO of anti-monarchy group Republic tweeted after getting arrested. “I have been told many times the monarch is there to defend our freedoms. Now our freedoms are under attack in his name.”
An Attempt to “Diminish” Protests
During a BBC Radio interview, Smith also said he believes the dozens of arrests were premeditated.
“There was nothing that we did do that could possibly justify even being detained and arrested and held,” Smith claimed.
“The whole thing was a deliberate attempt to disrupt and diminish our protest.”
Yasmine Ahmed, the U.K. Director of Human Rights Watch, also tweeted that the arrests were “disgraceful.”
“These are scenes you’d expect to see in Russia not the UK,” she wrote.
When asked about the controversy, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told reporters officers should do “what they think is best” in an apparent show of support for the Metropolitan Police.
For his part, London Mayor Sadiq Khan said he is looking into the matter.
“Some of the arrests made by police as part of the Coronation event raise questions and whilst investigations are ongoing, I’ve sought urgent clarity from Met leaders on the action taken,” Khan tweeted.
See what others are saying: (The Guardian) (CNN) (The Washington Post)
Foreign Nationals Make Mad Dash out of Sudan as Conflict Rages
The conflict’s death toll has surpassed 420, with nearly 4,000 people wounded.
As the 10-day-long power struggle between rival generals tore Sudan apart, foreign governments with citizens in the country scrambled to evacuate them over the weekend.
On Sunday, U.S. special forces landed in the capital Khartoum and carried out nearly 100 American diplomats along with their families and some foreign nationals on helicopters.
An estimated 16,000 Americans, however, remain in the country and U.S. officials said in a statement that a broader evacuation mission would be too dangerous.
Christopher Maier, the assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity warfare, said in a statement that the Pentagon may assist U.S. citizens find safe routes out of Sudan.
“[The Defense Department] is at present considering actions that may include use of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities to be able to observe routes and detect threats,” he said.
Germany and France also reportedly pulled around 700 people out of the country.
More countries followed with similar efforts, including the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Canada, China, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, and Indonesia.
Yesterday, a convoy carrying some 700 United Nations, NGO, and embassy staff drove to Port Sudan, a popular extraction point now that the airport in Khartoum has closed due to fighting.
Reports of gunmen prowling the capital streets and robbing people trying to escape, as well as looters breaking into abandoned homes and shops, have persuaded most residents to stay indoors.
Heavy gunfire, airstrikes, and artillery shelling have terrorized the city despite several proposed ceasefires.
Over the weekend, the reported death toll topped 420, with nearly 4,000 people injured, though both numbers are likely to be undercounted.