France wants EU to win virus ‘communications battle’

"France has delivered as many masks to Italy as China," insisted the Élysée, which deplored the fact that the EU was not communicating more frankly about its actions at a time when a lot is happening. EPA-EFE/CAROLINE BLUMBERG

European solidarity is being put to the test as some EU member states are not supporting the idea of ‘coronabonds’ and the EU’s approach to communicating with the public about the crisis remains too discreet, according to Paris. EURACTIV France reports.

On leaving the Council of Ministers on Wednesday (25 March), the government representatives looked very serious. After having promised “blood and tears” in the previous days, Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire was even more alarmist.

“Every man for himself will lead to the disappearance of the eurozone”, Le Maire warned a day after a bitter discussion between the EU’s finance ministers resulted in the failure of the tabled ‘coronabonds’ proposal.

‘Coronabonds’ are simple eurobonds, traditional bond issues, but which would be guaranteed at the EU level and not by an individual country.

Such a tool, which has long been desired by France and Southern European countries, would make it possible to pool the cost of the health crisis.

While the logic would make sense for the countries that are most affected at the moment and are not the most financially solid, such as Italy and Spain, Germany and the Netherlands continue to oppose this hypothesis.

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The subject is not officially on the agenda of the European Council, which will be held via a video conference on Thursday (26 March), but it will inevitably be discussed as it is one of the key issues at stake in the crisis.

Besides, it does not involve huge sums of money: the hypothesis under consideration is that the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) could provide credits to euro area member states of up to 2% of their GDP.

These credits, however, would still be considered as debt, which is why financial markets remain unconvinced by this solution and therefore shun the most indebted economies, such as Italy.

In view of this urgency, the official topics to be discussed at the European Council are of less importance, although they may also highlight European solidarity.

A communication battle to be won

Yet, it is precisely on this subject that France wants to insist at the European Council, which must focus on the concrete management of the current coronavirus crisis.

Four topics are on the agenda: limiting the spread of the virus, providing medical equipment, promoting research to find a vaccine, and curbing the socio-economic consequences of the pandemic.

The European Commission has already given considerable attention to these issues, as shown on the European executive’s website: no less than 49 press releases have been issued since the beginning of the crisis, representing as many concrete decisions. And more has been done in silence, behind the hushed walls of the Berlaymont building in Brussels.

“There has not been enough communication on local efforts vis-à-vis each other,” explained an adviser to the president, ahead of the meeting between heads of state.

The French president recalled on Wednesday (25 March) that Italian patients had been admitted to French hospitals at the beginning of the pandemic, long before Germany had offered its help in taking in French patients and then Italians.

“France has delivered as many masks to Italy as China,” insisted the Élysée, which deplored the fact that the EU was not communicating more openly about its actions at a time when a lot is happening.

In January, for example, the European Union had sent tons of medical equipment to China without communicating on the subject, as China had indicated that it did not wish to do so, in order to save face.

By comparison, Russia and then China made a lot of noise about the aid they sent to Italy, despite it being relatively modest.

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[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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