Video talks between EU finance ministers on finding a solution to fund the corona crisis are set to resume on Thursday, after divisions between the Netherlands and Italy wrecked earlier efforts to reach a deal.
In particular Dutch finance minister Wopke Hoekstra has come in for criticism for refusing to budge on his opposition to coronabonds and insistence that there are strict conditions for accessing the European Stability Mechanism.
The NRC says Hoekstra’s ‘inflexibility’ should not surprise seasoned Brussels diplomats because the Christian Democrat has taken a hard line since he first took part in EU talks in November 2017.
And his image, and therefore his influence, has further declined in this, possibly the greatest crisis since World War II, the paper said.
In particular, his position has weakened because Germany too is running out of patience, leading finance minister Olaf Scholz to describe Hoekstra’s position as ‘not targeted and inappropriate’, the NRC said.
The Dutch demand that any use of the ESM be linked to domestic spending cuts ignores the fact this is not an ‘ordinary financial crisis’, and behind the scenes German diplomats have been surprised by the lack of flexibility.
‘The Netherlands has to ask if it really wants to stop a compromise in this difficult period,’ one diplomat told the paper.
Hoekstra himself told broadcaster NOS on Thursday that there are plenty of opportunities for agreement in the talks, but again emphasized Dutch opposition to euro or coronabonds, a position supported by a majority of MPs earlier this week.
‘And that is important in the Netherlands, because MPs are ultimately in charge,’ the minister said.
However, Marc Peeperkorn in the Volkskrant points out that Hoekstra did nothing to try and win more negotiating room from MPs during this week’s debate.
‘Hope now rests on one of the big sharks, as a civil servant put it,’ Peeperkorn wrote. That, he said, means Angela Merkel ringing Mark Rutte or the Dutch government showing more flexibility.
Hoekstra, he wrote, ‘can always claim he got eurobonds off the table, which Berlin has no liking for either.’
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