EU proposes massive recovery plan amid disagreements

EU Commission president-elect Ursula von der Leyen makes a speech on eve of 30th anniversary of the fall of Berlin Wall on Nov. 8, 2019. (AFP Photo)

The EU unveiled a proposed 750 billion-euro recovery plan Wednesday to get the continent back on its feet after the devastation wreaked by the coronavirus pandemic amid disagreements within the 27-member bloc.

The European Commission put forward a 750 billion-euro ($825 billion) proposal to the European Parliament and member states, aiming to help the worst-affected countries with a mix of grants and loans. Economic Affairs Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni hailed the proposal as a “European breakthrough” that would “tackle an unprecedented crisis.”

Last week EU officials said the recovery package could be as much as 1 trillion euros, but the amount was announced Wednesday as 750 billion euros – a mixture of grants a loan credits.

Heavily indebted Italy and Spain are slated to be the biggest beneficiaries. Italy would receive up to 81.8 billion euros in direct aid and 90.9 billion euros in loans, while Spain would receive 77.3 billion euros in aid and 63.1 billion euros in credit, the document said.

The proposed package is expected to kick off tough negotiations as backers try to win the support of some northern EU states that oppose paying out aid in grants to nations already under mountains of debt, such as Italy and Spain.

Poland is preparing for difficult talks with the European Union over a planned recovery fund, a deputy prime minister was quoted as saying on Wednesday, amid government fears that Warsaw may become a net contributor, not a net beneficiary, of the fund.

“This is a very difficult situation. We are waiting for the European Commission’s official stance. We are gearing up for a discussion on this issue,” Deputy Prime Minister Jadwiga Emilewicz told Dziennik Gazeta Prawna daily in an interview.

“Excluding us from this form of support is incomprehensible to us … The extent to which COVID-19 has hit the country should not be the only allocation criterion,” she said, referring to the lung disease caused by the new coronavirus.

The proposal came as the continent, which has lost at least 173,000 people to COVID-19, grapples with the human tragedy and economic destruction. Spain on Wednesday began 10 days of official mourning for the more than 27,000 people who died in the country, with all flags on public buildings flown at half-mast. The Iberian nation and others hit particularly hard, such as Italy, Germany, France and Britain, have all started easing their lockdowns, as people head to shops, sunbathe at beaches and run in parks after months of confinement.