Coronavirus: EU agrees on €500 billion rescue package

Some EU countries have announced they would start relaxing lockdown measures from this month

File photo
File photo

Finance ministers of EU member states have agreed on a €500 billion rescue package for countries hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The deal was announced by Eurogroup chairman Mário Centeno on Thursday evening after long hours of discussion in Brussels.

This after the head of the International Monetary Fund warned that the world is facing the largest economic crisis since the 1930s Great Depression, with Spanish Prime Minister saying the country was facing the peak of the pandemic crisis.

More than 152,446 people have been infected in Spain, the worst-hit EU country after Italy. The death toll is close to 15,500.

French finance minister Bruno Le Maire described the deal as the most important economic plan in the bloc's history. 

The deal was put to the table after France and Italy demanded to share out the cost of the crisis by issuing 'coronabonds', but EU ministers did not accede to the request. The final package is smaller than that proposed by the European Central Bank, which said that the EU might need €1.5 billion to adequately deal with the pandemic.

"Europe has decided and is ready to meet the gravity of the crisis," Le Maire tweeted after the deal was announced.

As part of the agreement, the European Stability Mechanism, the EU's bailout fund will make €240 billion available to guarantee spending by indebted countries under pressure.

The EU ministers also agreed on €200 billion in guarantees from the European Investment Bank and a European Commission project for national short-time working schemes.

Amidst comments of disappointment from various countries, including Malta's foreign minister, Evarist Bartolo, that EU's value of solidarity wasn't particularly demonstrated and that the EU was slow to react to the crisis, the president of the European Parliament said, "Our faith in Europe has proven correct" after the agreement was reached.

Lockdown measures to relax

With some countries reporting signs of hope in terms of new COVID-19 infections, including Italy, some countries have already expressed their will to relax some lockdown measures in place.

Austria and Czech Republic have announced that by next week, some non-essential shops will start reopening. Denmark's schools will reopen on 15 April and Norway's on 20 April.

Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte has said that some lockdown measures will be relaxed in the coming weeks: "If scientists confirm it, we might be able to relax some measures already by the end of this month," he said in a statement.

Spain has extended its state of emergency to 26 April, another two weeks.