The failure of EU leaders to come up with a joint economic response to the coronavirus crisis unleashed widespread criticism in Italy on Friday, with newspapers slamming Europe’s foot dragging.
Portugal also lashed out at northern European fiscal orthodoxy, calling the Dutch position on budgets “repugnant”.
Germany and other northern European countries on Thursday rejected the plea of nine countries, including hardest-hit Italy, for pooled borrowing through “corona bonds” to help cushion the economic blow of the pandemic.
“Ugly Europe,” thundered the headline of La Repubblica newspaper.
The anti-establishment Il Fatto Quotidiano was even blunter, screaming: “Conte’s screw you to a dead Europe.”
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte had asked during a six-hour video conference with other EU leaders for new financial instruments “truly adapted to a war”.
But his request was rebuffed, and instead a summit declaration late Thursday gave eurozone finance ministers two weeks to come up with options.
Conte, the Corriere della Sera daily wrote, had asked his European colleagues for two things: “unity and swift action” but received neither.
“If the EU is not in agreement, the European project is over,” it said.
Foreign Minister Luigi DiMaio voiced his support for the prime minister.
“Conte did well. If they (Europe) want to use old financial instruments, we will do it alone,” DiMaio told Rai 1 television.
Rome and Madrid had held out for a stronger response from their EU partners but in the end the summit declaration said upcoming proposals would take into account “the unprecedented nature of the COVID-19 shock affecting all our countries”.
“Our response will be stepped up, as necessary, with further action in an inclusive way, in light of developments, in order to deliver a comprehensive response,” the statement said.
– ‘Cowardly Europe’ –
The caution exhibited by Europe’s northern countries underscores their long-standing reluctance to allow southern countries with weaker economies and higher debt to push through demands for pooled public borrowing within the eurozone.
France, Spain and Italy have long called for some kind of eurobond that would in effect allow joint borrowing by the 19 members of the euro single currency, but sceptics view it as a tool by some eurozone members to avoid higher borrowing rates.
The Italian former head of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani, slammed those countries which blocked stronger measures.
“A cowardly Europe, like the one we saw yesterday, will be overwhelmed by the coronavirus,” Tajani wrote on Twitter.
– ‘Repugnant’ –
“As we die and the economy plummets, decisions are postponed for two weeks,” he wrote.
“The masochistic selfishness of the inflexible is short-sighted and dangerous for all.”
The president of Italy’s Veneto region, which like its neighbour Lombardy has been especially hard hit by the virus, similarly criticised the EU.
“Europe is once again proving its absence. There is no strategy,” Luca Zaia told Rete4 television.
“It’s outrageous that someone would think it was just an Italian problem.”
The prime minister of Portugal, meanwhile, lashed out at what he called “the recurring pettiness” of the Dutch government, traditionally one of the strongest defenders of EU budgetary discipline.
Asked at a news conference about a reported proposal by the Netherlands to investigate the lack of budgetary leeway in some EU members to deal with the coronavirus fallout, Antonio Costa said: “This talk is repugnant in the framework of the European Union. That’s exactly the word: Repugnant.”
According to Dutch media, Finance Minister Wopke Hoekstra has said several times in the past week that a number of countries should have saved more over recent years which would have allowed to them to deal with the virus impact.
“This type of answer shows complete ignorance and such recurring pettiness undermines the spirit of the European Union and represents a threat to the future of the European Union,” Costa said.