PM Rutte denies blocking EU emergency fund for Covid-19 out of selfishness

When the leaders of the EU Member States could not agree on a 400 billion euros emergency fund to absorb the blows of the coronavirus, there was criticism from other EU countries that the Netherlands was thinking only of itself in blocking this fund. Prime Minister Mark Rutte denied this. "The idea that the Netherlands alone stands against the entire south is not true," he said to RTL Nieuws. "There is a fairly broad group against it and that was expressed quite firmly."

The European leaders discussed the so-called European Stability Mechanism (EMS), the emergency fund containing 400 billion euros, for some six hours over conference call on Thursday. Countries like Italy and Spain, already hit hard by the coronavirus, want to use the fund to absorb the blows. But the Netherlands and Germany see the fund only as a last resort and want to look at other options first, according to NOS. 

Even before the meeting started, there was criticism on the Dutch position. The southern Member States in particular accused the Netherlands of being too strict and thereby blocking emergency financial measures. According to those countries, the Netherlands is quick to call for compensation measures for fishermen and flower growers, but will block anything that affects anyone else more than itself. European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said she was annoyed by countries that think mainly about themselves and do not act together, though she did not mention any country specifically. "This is not a fair weather union," she said, according to NOS.

The virtual summit between the EU leaders ended with the decision to have the Eurogroup, which consists of the EU Finance Minister, discuss the matter further and come up with a proposal in two weeks' time. 

Rutte called the video call a "good discussion about the Covid-19 crisis that is affecting us all" on Twitter. "Each member state should take necessary measures at a national level, but we are also taking steps to support each other and our economies at a European level," he tweeted.

He acknowledged to RTL Nieuws that leaving the matter up to the Eurogroup, who also could not agree on it earlier this week, is "just passing on the debate", but added: "It's good that it didn't get stuck in the end." In a few weeks time, the debate will come back to the EU leaders and then it will be time to make decisions, Rutte said to the broadcaster.