European Union agreed on a recovery package worth 750 billion euros [about 65,000 billion Indian rupees] to deal with the impacts they are facing due to the coronavirus, which has killed nearly 150,000 people in the union and has put many economies on hold. Italy, one of the hard-hit countries in the bloc, alone will receive about 30 per cent of the package
It was the first face-to-face meeting of the European leaders in months. The pandemic has halted its regular meets and summits. They were about to discuss the ways to bring back the European Union on track in the aftermath of the corona crisis including a package for recovery.
It was easy to see the initial divide among the leaders: While German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron were seen wearing face masks, the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban was seen without one.
The divide widened further during the marathon discussions that lasted over 90 hours – days and nights. It was tough to make a common decision. But in the end, the 27-member union agreed on a recovery package worth 750 billion euros (about 65,000 billion Indian rupees) to deal with the impacts they are facing due to the coronavirus, which has killed nearly 150,000 people in the union and has put many economies on hold.
A little over half of the amount (390 billion euros) will be given as grants to the member states, while the rest will be provided on easy loan terms. Italy, one of the hard-hit countries in the bloc, alone will receive about 30 percent of the package.
It was a cheer-up moment after a deal was announced. The European leaders were seen relieved. But is everything well in the European Union?
Groups in the group
The idea of the European Union started taking shape after World War II. Most of the European countries were badly affected by the war and this common ground brought them together. It developed further with time and resulted in visa-free nations (Schengen area) and a common currency (Euro). Although not all EU countries are part of the Schengen deal and Euro is not the common currency of all European Union countries.
But the economic ambitions and political complexities have developed further groups in the bloc. The so-called rich and poor, north and south divide or recently the Frugal Four have brought tensions in the union.
The pandemic had different impacts on different countries. For example, the Southern European countries of Italy and Spain were badly affected and have seen over 60,000 deaths. These countries had to go for complete lockdowns for weeks. While the Northern state of Germany somehow managed to cope with the pandemic, thanks to the strong leadership and early tests.
The impacts have big economic fallouts. The German economy is supposed to contract a little over six percent but the Italian and Spanish economies would go for a tailspin and may fall about 10 per cent. The northern countries in the union are considered to be richer.
A recent survey by an EU agency [Eurofound] shows that the people in Italy, Spain, France and Greece have the least trust in the European Union. These countries give less than 4 out of 10 points when it came to faith in
Recently a Frugal Four group (Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden and Austria) has been developed within the European Union. The group advocates for responsible spending and believes in checks and balances inside the union.
Lately, the group has also seen a political divide on the lines of populism and nationalism. Countries like Hungary and Poland are witnessing rightwing leadership. Populist and rightwing leaders are also gaining support in some other European countries such as Austria, Germany and the Netherlands. The ideology has already played a major role during the refugee crisis a few years ago.
There is also a wide gap among the countries on the issues of democratic standards and the commitment to climate change obligations.
Impact of Brexit
Brexit is another factor that is going to show its impact on the union. The United Kingdom has said goodbye to the group and the final formalities of its elimination are in process.
It is said that Brexit is a lose-lose situation for both the European Union and Britain. But it will certainly show big consequences on the union. Britain was one of the richest countries in the bloc and one of the world’s most powerful nations. It is also one of the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and with its exit, the union is left with only one permanent member (France). For the European Union, it could be a huge significance on the global level.
Britain is also one of the leading economies in the world. It was one of the biggest financial contributors for the 27-member states and its exit has created a big financial gap in
Germany & Merkel
With Britain’s exit, Germany has become the engine of the bloc. Under the leadership of Chancellor Merkel, it has also become the most powerful nation in the continent. The recent summit was an example of Merkel’s negotiating powers, where she has managed to convince the group that led to the deal.
Angela Merkel is one of the most senior leaders in the union and her experience counts at crucial stages. She was the key figure in the last three major crises the group has seen: The financial crisis, the refugee crisis and the corona crisis. Surprisingly, Merkel managed to handle all three of them brilliantly and the group
But the countdown of Merkel’s political career has already started. She will not be a chancellor candidate for the next general elections in the country, which is going to take place next year. With populism on the rise in Germany, one cannot predict the form of the next government and the leader, to be specific. But certainly, the country will witness someone with less experience than Merkel. It is hard to say how it is going to impact the solidarity and unity of the European Union. Presently, Germany is playing a more important role with Ursula von der Leyen (a German)being the president of the European Commission, the executive branch of the European Union. Von der Leyen is a close associate of Chancellor Merkel and has served for different ministries in her cabinet, including the defence minister of Germany. It seems that the two most powerful European ladies are from Germany and there is great chemistry among them.
Germany is also the present president of the council of the European Union. Being the head of the state, Chancellor Merkel has the opportunity to show her expertise and power in the union.
But this will be over soon. The council has a policy of rotating the presidency and the member states get their turns every six months. The impact and execution of the corona package will be seen next year when the presidency will be handed over to relatively weaker countries: Portugal and Slovenia.
The group that was created on some common grounds is seeing divisions due to the lack of a common goal and for their economic and political ambitions. The combined European Union has a population of over 450 million people making it the third most populous “country”, next only to China and India.
The union is known for its extraordinary democratic values, which gives one platform to different voices. It is also seen as a strong balancing power to the US and China. The world needs a strong EU. So far it has handled the crises, but the question is if it could survive the