Michel: EU’s way of working is ‘too slow’

Charles Michel, President of the European Council, gives a press conference after a video meeting with EU leaders in Brussels, 26 March 2020. [European Union]

European Council President Charles Michel has voiced regret that Europe’s way of working, also evident during the coronavirus crisis, is ‘too slow’ and called for more solidarity with countries that have been hard-hit by the pandemic, like Italy and Spain.

“In today’s world, even before the COVID-19, the way of working in Europe is too slow. In the future, to adopt our positions, we need to react more quickly when there is a necessity,” Michel told elEconomista and three other European media outlets in an interview published on 18 April.

The European Council chief admitted that it took “a few days” before member states shared the same diagnosis of the crisis, and a few more after they adopted the decisions following the first leaders’ teleconference on 10 March.

Michel also expressed his “frustration” over the slow response to provide medical equipment to countries like Italy. “That cost us huge negative effects. And I regret that,” he lamented. 

The former Belgian prime minister stressed that the EU should show “real and concrete solidarity” with Italy and Spain, the two countries more affected by the pandemic.  

Looking ahead, he said that Europe should learn the lessons and develop a “more common European approach” to face future crises, adding more capacities at EU level. 

His comments came ahead of the EU leaders’ teleconference on 23 April to start discussing the recovery plan, and the way to finance it, including the divisive issue of the mutualisation of debt and the ‘coronabonds’

Leaders clash over stimulus against pandemic, pass hot potato to Eurogroup

EU leaders on Thursday (26 March) continued to disagree over the economic response to the coronavirus as Northern countries rejected the idea of issuing joint debt, known as “corona bonds”, proposed by nine member states to finance the recovery.

But Michel warned that, before discussing the financing, leaders should agree on the broad strategy, which would be the priority next week.

“The financing of the plan, which tools we can use for the implementation of the solidarity, are important decisions. But it is important not to lose sight of the bigger architecture,” he said.

He will propose to the leaders a four-point strategy based on the single market, a “massive” investment plan, the external dimension, and improving Europe’s resilience.

As countries remain at loggerheads over the mutualisation of debt, Michel recalled that “mutualisation is nothing new”.

“It is the basis of the European project, what we do with the European budget is based on solidarity, is based on mutualisation”.

In regard to the next multiannual financial framework (MFF), the EU’s seven-year budget seen as a key instrument to finance the recovery, he said the Commission does not need to present a totally new draft, as the previous one was a good basis. But the EU executive should adapt it to factor in the impact of the pandemic.

Commission to put forward updated MFF by end of April

The European Commission is planning to present an updated multi-annual financial framework proposal on 29 April, as part of the recovery strategy to tackle the economic fallout of the coronavirus, according to an internal document seen by EURACTIV.com.

He highlighted the importance the Green Pact and the Digital Agenda will play, but also Cohesion priorities and the Common Agricultural Policy.

“It will be important, more than ever, to invest in solidarity, cohesion and agriculture, in order to guarantee this process of convergence, and to guarantee also the European sovereignty,” he said.

Michel did not specify how big the budget, or the recovery plan, should be. And he said that discussions will continue to see whether it could be used to back the issuance of joint bonds, as a compromise between those who want to mutualise the costs by issuing joint debt and those who oppose it. 

“We need to look at the details because sometimes the devil is the details,” he explained.

Michel left the door open to adopting further economic measures if needed before the next MFF kicks in, expected in January.

But he said that the economic package approved so far by the member states and EU institutions, amounting to 3.8% of the EU’s GDP is sufficient to cope with current needs.

“I don’t think in the very short term we will have a financial problem,” Michel insisted. 

Eurogroup agrees on €540 billion corona-package

The Eurogroup finally agreed on a €500 billion package to support member states, companies and workers in the coronavirus crisis, after The Netherlands and Italy overcame they differences. Leaders will discuss in the coming days the recovery plan and the possibility of ‘coronabonds’.

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