Thursday. 09.02.2023

Widowhood

Marin-Kiuru-Ohisalo-by-Lauri-Heikkinen-Vnk
Prime Minister Marin (centre) with ministers Kiuru (left) and Ohisalo. Photo: Lauri Heikkinen/Vnk.

The Government of Finland recently made great efforts -and probably spent lots of money- to project internationally a positive and kind image of its new leaders: a team of young women with a fresh and modern vision of the world led by a prime minister who likes to adapt Gandhi's quotes to allude to solidarity in her speeches.

The strategy paid off and for some time it was possible to live politically on slogans and well-sounding phrases.

But at some point all leaders come to a situation where they have to do real politics. And when that happens, people check if the messages delivered in the days of the smiling photos were something else than hackneyed phrases.

In the present days, the world is experiencing the worst catastrophe since the World War II. With the difference that now there are no Hitlers to blame. Just an invisible deadly virus which broke into our societies, killing many of our loved ones and threatening to ruin our economies.

The Covid-19 is about to provoke a crisis of colossal dimensions, with hundreds of thousands of companies and jobs destroyed in Europe.

In this gloomy context, last night we witnessed the fourth failed attempt by the Eurogroup to find a solution to the economic and social disaster that lies ahead.

The 16-hour meeting of the EU finance ministers aimed to establish a firewall to protect the EU economies and support their recovery. But instead, the politicians showed their division and the two irreconcilable souls (north and south) of the EU. There will be no European solidarity, however much they insist on saying it, nor joint responses.

Coronabonds

Germany made it clear once again that they will not accept the creation of joint debt instruments (the so-called Eurobonds or Coronabonds) to finance the reconstruction of the EU economies. The German position is supported mainly by the Netherlands, whose finance minister Wopke Hoekstra is acting as a sort of bully child. 

But also by Austria and Finland. 

Finland´s Minister of Finance Katri Kulmuni said it clear: "We do not support joint debt and every country has to take responsibility for its own economy policy."

On the other side of the tragedy are the countries hardest hit by the coronavirus: Italy, Spain and France. Can´t Europe help them?

Yes. The northern countries accept to support their partners. The question is how to do it.

The northern countries want to oblige them to use the European Stability Mechanism (ESM). This is an instrument created to provide financial assistance to troubled states. The problem is that this support is always conditioned on the acceptance of commitments that usually involve serious cuts in social spending.

To put it briefly, the ESM is an instrument to be used by governments that have done something wrong and must modify their stability programs. But in exchange for the EU support, they must put their economies under the control of Brussels, as happened with Greece in the past decade.

The message sent to Rome, Madrid and Paris by the leaders of Germany, the Netherlands, Austria and Finland is that if they want help they will have it at the cost of huge social cuts

Lost human lives

Italy, Spain and France are now suffering the greatest loss of human life. And since their economies are much more dependent on tourism and the service sector, they will surely also suffer the biggest blow to their economies.

With such a bleak horizon ahead, the message sent to Rome, Madrid and Paris by the leaders of Germany, the Netherlands, Austria and their young supporters of Finland is that if they want help they will have it at the cost of huge social cuts.

Thus, accepting conditional aid through the ESM will mean for Italy, Spain and France further impoverish their economies, as well as cuts in benefits for the unemployed and retirees. Eventually, that means less consumption and more destruction of jobs and companies.

In short: once again, the weakest would suffer more due to a crisis that they did not create.

The southern countries do not agree on everything either. Italy is now the main defender of the Eurobonds. Spain, whose economy grew twice the European average before this crisis, would accept use the ESM, provided that no harsh conditions are established. France proposes the creation of new European aid funds.

Populists and pseudo-patriots

In this context, EU leaders -also the young Finnish leadership- should think of the serious consequences that their confrontation may have.

If we talk about the economy, Italy, Spain and France together represent 39% of the EU population. They are the main markets for exports from northern countries. Dropping them into a crisis of uncertain duration can end up dragging everyone down.

And if we talk about politics, our leaders should think how dangerous it is to send the message that Europe is divided, that it has several souls, the union does not exist and each country only cares about their own interests.

This would be as much as saying that populists, anti-Europeans and pseudo-patriots such as Salvini in Italy, Abascal in Spain, Le Pen in France or Halla-Aho in Finland were right. Do we want to see them ruling in our chancelleries?

The disease caused by the Covid-19 has already killed too many people. Widowhood in Europe is common now. Let's hope that other more dangerous viruses do not come behind to destroy the freedom and welfare we enjoyed so far.

Widowhood
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