“This speech is disgusting”. The expression was not a lapse, Costa confirmed it shortly afterwards and with emphasis: “The expression is really this: re-pug-nante”. At the end of Thursday’s European Council meeting, by videoconference, António Costa became the spokesman for discontent over disunity in the European Union. But already after targeting three countries he did not name, and fiercely attacked the position taken by the Government of the Netherlands.
At the end of the press conference, after a meeting of heads of state that ended without the necessary unanimity on the issue of common European debt, the so-called coronabonds, the prime minister was questioned by Antena 1 about statements by the Minister of Finance of the Netherlands. Wopke Hoekstra suggested an investigation in Spain after Madrid said it had no budgetary margin to respond to the crisis caused by the new coronavirus without financial support from the European Union. Spain is the second country most hit by the pandemic in Europe with more than 4,000 dead and on the way to 6,000 infected.
Costa reacted by invoking the adjective that in some dictionaries, such as the online dictionary of the Priberam portal, has synonyms such as “disgusting”, “disgusting” and “que indigna”. And he explained why disgusting is not an exaggeration:
We are not and no one is available to hear from Dutch finance ministers like the ones we heard in 2008, 2009 and 2010. It is a good time to understand that it was not Spain that created the virus or that imported the virus, us all equally. If we do not respect each other and if we do not understand that in the face of a common challenge we must be able to respond in common, then no one has understood anything about the European Union ”, he accused.
The tone was somewhat irritating and this time it was not the optimism of the Portuguese PM that irritated anyone, but the “stinginess” of the Netherlands ruler. And the attack was launched invoking old resentments: “stinginess”, said Costa, is “recurrent” and “completely undermines what the spirit of the European Union is, is a threat to the future of the EU”.
The criticisms of the Netherlands’ positions were so accentuated that António Costa even considered the survival of the European Union as a hypothetical condition. “If the EU wants to survive”, warned the Portuguese Prime Minister, “it is unacceptable that a politician, from whatever country, can give an answer of this nature in the face of a pandemic like the one we are experiencing. It was at this expense that we all realized that it was unbearable to work with Mr Dijsselbloem ”.
António Costa’s reference to Jeroen Dijsselbloem recalls the words of the former Dutch finance minister and former president of the Eurogroup, who argued, after the peak of the sovereign debt crisis in Europe – which affected mainly Greece and Portugal – that people in the southern countries spent money on wine and women and then asked for help from European partners. “Apparently there are countries that insist on changing their names but keeping people with the same profile,” concluded Costa, to end the conference.
The pandemic, António Costa had previously recalled, has symmetrical effects: it affects everyone without looking at the geography of countries, whether they are further south or further north.
“This time we are not in a crisis that affects some and does not reach others, we are in a crisis that reaches 27. If this is not the time that everyone realizes that we really have to come together to face a common problem together, I don’t know when it will happen ”, pointed out the Prime Minister of Portugal, recognizing that there are“ asymmetric effects ”in the consequences that the pandemic causes in each country but defending that this results“ from having an economic and monetary union that is not properly completed ”.
Before the last incendiary response, António Costa had already shown that the EU’s union is not among all. “This was the possible agreement, but manifestly insufficient for what is required of Europe”, criticized the Portuguese Prime Minister, explaining why the financial drugs proposed by the EU to respond to the coronavirus are a little short:
We cannot continue to argue on the traditional basis when we have a crisis that is much larger than the ones we have had so far ”, pointed out Costa, recalling that“ the appropriation has not yet been talked about ”for a medium-term plan for the recovery of the European economy .
The divisions at the meeting at the European Council were not hidden: António Costa even revealed that there was a proposal for joint issuance of debt by the European Union, which was majority but not consensual and advanced numbers: “There are three countries totally against and one that, being against, has enough open-mindedness to discuss what has never been available to discuss until now. And this is a first door that opens and gives some encouragement ”. Which are the three irreducible countries and which country is averse to the idea but open to negotiation? Costa did not say, but the Netherlands will probably be in the first batch.
The Portuguese Prime Minister also recalled other crises, such as that of migration (or refugees) and the sovereign debts of the countries of Southern Europe, which had an EU reaction “with divisions and without giving timely responses”. If this is the case again, this time with the coronavirus, the European Union “will suffer a lot from this tsunami”. To avoid this, Costa pointed out, nine countries, including Portugal, have signed a letter asking the EU to “be more daring” to “face extraordinary situations”, given that “it is difficult to imagine a situation more extraordinary than this one. We have to use all the instruments ”.
Costa nonetheless praised the “determined action by the European Central Bank” to “control the risk of any sovereign debt crisis” and noted a “good downward trend” in interest rates “which is essential to continue. For the ECB, even the most praiseworthy words were reserved: the announcements of mobilization of 750 billion euros for intervention in the markets and for the removal of restrictions on children from debt lines by countries was “the EU’s most important contribution so far” , considered the Portuguese PM.
With the reticence of some countries that understand that extending the economic and monetary union to respond in bulk to the coronavirus is harmful to their interests, the final text of the resolutions adopted this Thursday by the European Council leaves some demands and signs of dissatisfaction. However, not very concrete, with the exception of a greater distribution of medical supplies and test kits by European states. Deeper proposals like coronabonds have been discarded.
The European Commission, for example, is required to “continue and accelerate its efforts” to ensure the provision of sufficient medical equipment in the Member States. It is the most “acute” priority, read between the resolutions. But it is not the only requirement for the EC: “We ask the Commission to explore ways to speed up procedures” regarding fans, PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) and test kits, the countries with seats on the European Council have jointly signed. It is also “urgent to increase the capacity to test” possible infected people, in the light of the “recommendations of the World Health Organization”, and the Member States will “report” this to the European Commission.
The Eurogroup, the countries with a seat on the European Council, are asking for “proposals to be submitted within two weeks”, proposals that “take into account the unprecedented nature of the shock caused by Covid-19”. The shock, still to be read between the resolutions, affects “all of our countries” and an answer is needed “at the same time”. The Eurogroup must “present the conditions for the mobilization of a line of the European stability instrument to finance the states in the coronavirus crisis, in the global amount of 240 billion euros”, explained Costa later. European finance ministers are challenged to “explore without delay the possibilities of scaling the European Investment Bank’s overall response to coronavirus”.