EU’s Covid-19 recovery deal
Sir, – Last May, in a speech to the European Parliament, the president of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen presented an outline of the recovery package needed to rebuild the European economies post-Covid. In that speech, she correctly emphasised that an opportunity had presented itself to build a “modern, clean and healthy” economy. She highlighted that the recovery plan was an investment for future generations.
Yet it seems that pressure was brought to bear during negotiations which has significantly reduced subsidies to help economies move towards carbon neutrality.
Greta Thunberg and other activists have been quick in their condemnation of this cut and the return to the short-termism which has prevented the radical changes needed to fight climate change.
They highlight the irony of how a continent was effectively brought to standstill for the Covid-19 emergency, but the existential threat of climate change and the biodiversity collapse are still seen as some relatively long-term issues which we can come back to.
What seemed to be missing in the debate is the joined-up thinking which recognises that the Covid-19 crisis is ultimately one manifestation of humanity’s destructive relationship with nature. The struggle to change the global economy to a sustainable one is as much about human health as it is about clean air and flourishing ecosystems. Yet another opportunity lost. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Many thanks for publishing Brigid Laffan’s excellent and balanced account of the new EU pandemic recovery package and seven-year budgetary framework (“Shape of EU’s new political dynamic becomes clearer”, Opinion & Analysis, 22nd).
It is a deal that could hardly have been agreed had the UK still been a member, as it would have strengthened the negotiating hand of the “frugal four” – Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden.
That has not prevented English Eurosceptics from pouring cold water on the deal, however. For instance, writing in the Eurosceptic Spectator magazine, Mathew Lynn argues that “Europe’s coronavirus rescue fund is dead on arrival”.
His main points are, first, that it is too small; second, that it comes at the cost of great division within the EU; third, that the environmental or digital taxes proposed to pay back €360 billion in borrowing have yet to be agreed; and finally, that the disbursement of funds will be subject to political review.
First, the €1.8 trillion package is about 30 times the hated and now forgone British net contribution to the budget over the next seven years. Hardly trivial?
Second, EU budget negotiations have always been fractious and difficult. Fortunately, they only come around once every seven years. Hardly the end of the world?
Third, as the debt incurred is not due to be repaid for many years, it was hardly the most urgent order of business now to agree the exact environmental or digital taxes to be levied.
Finally, the disbursement process is to be managed by the European Commission with some oversight by the European Council. That is how the EU budget is always spent and involves the technical expertise of the EU’s civil service, together with some democratic oversight. Isn’t that how the UK organises its finances?
While always being grateful for the Spectator’s solicitude, I think the EU will manage just fine without the UK’s involvement. But it is strange to see conservative Eurosceptics worry about the EU’s unity, decry the small size of the budget, and express concerns about democratic oversight when they have always been the first to criticise the huge size of the EU’s budget and a claimed lack of democratic accountability.
In any case, it is a relief that the EU can now go about its business of mitigating the worst effects of the pandemic and associated economic depression. Hopefully, we will soon resolve outstanding issues around that other distraction, Brexit, although probably not to the satisfaction of the Spectator! – Yours, etc,