Dutch Finance Min. optimistic about a deal on European coronavirus bailout

Wopke Hoekstra in Brussels
Wopke Hoekstra representing the Netherlands at a meeting of EU finance ministers in Brussels. Nov. 8, 2019Ale_MiDepositPhotosDeposit Photos

After over 16 hours of discussions overnight, the European Ministers of Finance still could not come to an agreement on a financial support package of 540 billion euros for countries hit hardest by the coronavirus. The negotiations will continue on Thursday. Dutch Minister Wopke Hoekstra of Finance is optimistic that a deal will eventually be reached, but is still sticking to the Netherlands' firm stance against so-called coronabonds and condition-free loans.

"I am hopeful that we will get there in the coming days with a combination of solidarity and doing what is sensible," Hoekstra said to NOS about the video meeting. "My impression is that we have come a long way and have taken good steps, but there are also a few things that are difficult, things that several Member States disagree on."

On Twitter, Hoekstra spoke of a "very long, intense and also constructive" meeting, and reiterated the Netherlands stance against coronabonds - joint European loans that the European Union member states as a whole guarantee. "We think this will create more problems than solutions for the EU. We would have to guarantee debts of other countries which isn't reasonable. The majority of the Eurogroup shares this view and does not support Eurobonds," he tweeted.

Another point of discontent is European emergency fund ESM. Hard-hit countries want to use this fund to pay for emergency medical aid. But the Netherlands wants to stick to the original aim of the fund - only using it for economic financial aid, according to RTL Nieuws. Only in exceptional circumstances will the Netherlands be willing to allow money from the fund to be used for medical costs. Speaking to RTL Nieuws, Hoekstra also called it "unwise" to allow emergency loans without conditions attached. According to Hoekstra, history shows that making money available in combination with agreements on economic reform and improvements may be difficult, but produces the best results.

Eurogroup president Mario Centeno tweeted on Wednesday morning that the Finance Ministers "came close to a deal but we are not there yet". The discussion will continue on Thursday. "My goal remains: A strong EU safety net against the fallout of Covid-19 (to shield workers, firms and countries) and to commit to a sizable recovery plan," he tweeted.

None of the Ministers involved said why an agreement could not be reached, but Dutch media believe it has to do with the conflict between the Netherlands and Italy regarding coronabonds and allowing the ESM to be used to cover medical costs - Italy is a fervent proponent, the Netherlands is vehemently against. The Netherlands hard line against these measures previously led to criticism from Italian politicians, and Hoekstra acknowledging that he showed too little empathy

According to RTL Nieuws, the Netherlands seems to be increasingly alone in its opposition of the European financial aid measures. French and German Finance Ministers, Bruno le Maire and Olaf Scholz, called on the other Member States to get over themselves and reach an agreement.