The European Commission yesterday unveiled its 750billion euro Economic Recovery Package aimed at mitigating the impact of the crisis, comprising 500billion euros in grants, most of which will go to Spain and Italy. However, Bruno Le Maire, France’s Minister for the Economy, admitted he was gravely concerned about the future, while a grim assessment of the economic which will result from the continent-wide lockdown, predicting large numbers of firms going out of business and heavy job losses.
Mr Le Maire, who was appointed by Mr Macron after his 2017 election victory, told reporters: “The real risk for the European Union is that it could break up.
“Having countries that are doing very well economically and others that are lagging behind within the same monetary zone, that is simply unacceptable.”
His remarks were likely a reference to perceived splits between countries in the north and south of the bloc, with those in the wealthier north dubious about proposals to pump large quantities of cash into countries in the south hardest hit by coronavirus to prop up their economies.
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Mr Le Maire also warned the current conditions, with ongoing restrictions on freedom of movement and no obvious opportunity to end social distancing at any time in the near future, were making it more difficult to govern, especially at the EU level.
He said: “Negotiation takes place around a table.
“Sometimes we isolate ourselves in small groups, sometimes we come together.
“If we had such difficulty in concluding the agreement on economic support, I think that the fact that we were not together played a big part. We need to be together.”
“We must be well aware of this: The hardest part is yet to come.
Looking to the future, he added: “We had the tsunami.
“The levee held, but the sea will recede and we will see bankruptcies, layoffs.
“And that is when we will have to adapt our system and provide very strong responses.”
Writing about the EU’s plans on Twitter yesterday, Mr Macron himself said: “EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen offers an unprecedented recovery plan of 750 billion euros for regions and sectors in difficulty.
“The Franco-German agreement has made this possible.
“We must go quickly and adopt an ambitious agreement with all our European partners.”
However, others reacted more cautiously.
Austria’s Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said: “There are countries that must pay, like the Netherlands, the Swedes, the Danes and us.
“We therefore, out of responsibility to our taxpayers, say clearly that we are in favour of loans.”
The scheme could still be vetoed by the European Council, consisting of leaders of the bloc, later this month.
(Additional reporting by Maria Ortega)