Human lives do not come back unlike public debts which can be returned, former Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras wrote in an op-ed for Le Monde.
“We do not have a real war today. But it’s like having a war. Our economies shrink symmetrically and in absolute terms,” Tsipras said.
“However, the priority is to save human lives. Lives cannot return. Debts are repaid or even written off, as was the case after the real war, in 1953. But lives are not coming back again,” the leader of the opposition Syriza party added.
Tsipras was referring to the ongoing clash between Europe’s northern and southern member states over how to tackle the escalating economic implications of the coronavirus crisis.
While at least nine Eurozone countries, including the current Greek government of Kyriakos Mitsotakis, are pushing for jointly issued ‘coronabond’ to be introduced, northern Europe led by Germany opposes it, preferring to use the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) to grant bailouts to the countries hit by the coronavirus crisis.
Tsipras, who experienced a similar battle during Greece’s tough bailout talks, criticised leaders for their intransigent attitude.
“I know very well, after 4.5 years of attending the European Council, that Europe is moving slowly, with little breaks and big compromises. I hope such a compromise will be reached in the coming days,” he said.
He added that the main responsibility lies with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has to choose between her legacy as a European leader and “her national audience which has been infected with chauvinism for years”.
Moving forward without Germany?
Tsipras said the ESM could be the ideal mechanism to issue a grand coronabond considering its creditworthiness to borrow on exceptional terms such as the one recently agreed on between US Republicans and Democrats.
“A eurobond without Germany and the Netherlands would certainly not be as strong, but let’s not forget that the other member states together represent over 2/3 of EU GDP. They just need to have the will to move forward. This may also be the only way for Europe to move forward,” he said.
The jobless fund
Meanwhile, the European Commission produced a proposal on Wednesday (1 April) to raise up to €100 billion for a new temporary fund to support workers in countries that have been hit hard by coronavirus.
According to Economic Affairs Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni, this is “Europe’s first joint response to the coronavirus crisis and I hope there will be more to follow.”
“The SURE instrument will act as a second line of defence, supporting short-time work schemes and similar measures, to help member states protect jobs and thus employees and self-employed against the risk of unemployment and loss of income,” a document seen by EURACTIV reads.
The news was warmly welcomed by the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), which urged the EU Council to adopt it as soon as possible.
“A scheme like SURE is urgently needed to prevent mass unemployment and a deep recession.Trade unions urge the Eurogroup and the Council to agree SURE and to make it operational immediately. More jobs are being lost every day and ambitious measures to prevent job losses and protect wages cannot wait,” said ETUC’s General Secretary Luca Visentini.
In an effort to appease angry Italians, EU Commission chief, Ursula von der Leyen told the La Repubblica daily that Europe was “now mobilising at Italy’s side but it must be recognised that in the first days of the crisis too many countries thought only of their own problems, a dangerous conduct that could have been averted”.
[Edited by Benjamin Fox]