Thursday 04 March 2021

Dutch finance minister tells south the Netherlands is ready to help

Finance minister Wopke Hoekstra outlines his plans to MPs. Photo: Dirk Hol Novum via HH

Dutch finance minister Wopke Hoekstra has admitted that ministers have not shown sufficient empathy towards southern European countries which are grappling with coronavirus.

Hoekstra and prime minister Mark Rutte have both been heavily criticised for a lack of solidarity to fellow EU countries who are struggling to cope with the coronavirus pandemic.

A group of Italian mayors, regional governors and one MEP even bought a page in German paper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in which they accuse the Netherlands of not being ethical or showing solidarity and urging Germany to take the ‘right steps’ and support southern European countries.

‘We should have made it clearer that we want to help,’ Hoekstra said on Tuesday. ‘That goes for both myself and Rutte. We should have said what we did differently.’

Hoekstra said in a briefing to Dutch MPs last week that issuing coronabonds would be a ‘moral hazard’ and he called on the EU to ‘investigate countries which say they have no budgetary margin to deal with the effects of the crisis…. even though the eurozone has grown for seven consecutive years’.

Rutte too dismissed the option of the EU issuing special bonds to help pay for the crisis by saying: ‘I cannot foresee any circumstances in which the Netherlands will accept eurobonds.’

The criticism of the Dutch officials also spread to members of the coalition government, with ChristenUnie leader Gert-Jan Segers telling television programme Op1: ‘There must now be a new Marshall Plan for southern Europe, which is now so ravaged.’

Spending

Hoekstra told reporters on Tuesday that he had not communicated the Dutch position properly. Asked if he would apologise for the comments, Hoekstra told broadcaster NOS: ‘No, you should not make too much out of it, but you should acknowledge… that this overwhelmed our position when it comes to solidarity and the Netherlands’ real willingness to spend more money and help countries.’

‘There is an acute problem in terms of human health and we must stand shoulder to shoulder,’ he said. The EU has freed up €37bn and that could be increased, the minister told reporters.

However, he said, the Netherlands would only support accessing the European emergency fund ESM under strict conditions and, Hoekstra said, the Netherlands remains opposed to the issue of EU-backed bonds, or coronabonds. ‘We are not going to do it,’ he said. ‘That will not solve any problems.’

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