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Coronavirus: EU finance ministers agree on €500 billion emergency fund

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Portuguese Finance Minister and Eurogroup chief Mario Centeno in Brussels on February 17, 2020.
Portuguese Finance Minister and Eurogroup chief Mario Centeno in Brussels on February 17, 2020.   -   Copyright  FRANCOIS WALSCHAERTS/AFP
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EU finance ministers agreed on Thursday to a common emergency plan to limit the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the European economy.

The Eurogroup, which brings together the finance ministers of the 19 member states sharing the single currency, reached a deal on a response plan worth more than €500 billion.

The agreement, however, does not mention using shared debt, or so-called "corona bonds", to help the hardest-hit countries.

"This proposal contains bold and ambitious proposals that would have been unthinkable just a few weeks ago", the Portuguese Finance minister and president of the Eurogroup Mario Centeno said in a video conference.

"We can all remember the response to the financial crisis of the last decade, when Europe did too little too late. This time around is different."

The proposal, he added, "implements the strong response that Europe needs".

'An important day for Europe'

Shortly after they reached an agreement, finance ministers enthusiastically announced the news on social media.

"Excellent agreement between EU finance ministers on the economic response to coronavirus," French finance minister Bruno Le Maire tweeted.

"500 billion euros will be made available immediately. A stimulus package is to come. Europe is standing up to face the seriousness of the situation."

Le Maire added: "This is an important day for Europe."

"We will present an ambitious plan to the European Council", Italy's finance minister Roberto Gualtieri said. "We will fight to make it a reality."

"After long and intense conversations the last couple of days, the Eurogroup came to a good conclusion today. We made sensible agreements together for Europe and the Netherlands to face the coronacrisis", Dutch finance minister Wopke Hoekstra said.

Hoekstra added that the "comprehensive package" will help EU member states to "finance the medical costs" and "build national economies on the long-term".

The ministers agreed that hard-hit countries could quickly tap the Eurozone's bailout fund for up to €240 billion, as long as the money is spent on their health care systems and the credit line expires after the outbreak is over. A dispute over tying conditions to the rescue funds had held up a deal earlier this week.

The agreement also provides for up to €200 billion in credit guarantees through the European Investment Bank to keep companies afloat and €100 billion to make up lost wages for workers put on shorter hours.

"I believe the test of solidarity has been met," Irish finance minister Paschal Donohoe told Euronews.

"If you combine that package with what the European Central Bank is already doing (…) we now have an agreement overall that has happened with the kind of speed and scale that was completely lacking when Europe faced similar challenges a decade ago," he said.

However, not all parties agreed on financing the recovery using joint debt, in the form of "corona bonds" or "eurobonds" that would be guaranteed by all member countries.

"Some member states have expressed the view that this should be done by common debt instruments," Centeno said. "Other member states said alternative ways should be found."

"We are and will remain opposed to eurobonds. We think this concept will not help Europe or the Netherlands in the long-term," Hoekstra said.

The Netherlands were blocking the talks since Tuesday, the AFP news agency reported.

"The meeting ended with ministers' applause," a spokesperson for the Eurogroup said.