Finance Minister Martin Helme (EKRE) on Monday criticized the proposed €500 billion recovery fund that would offer grants to European Union regions and sectors hit hardest by the coronavirus pandemic. Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu (Isamaa) said rational decisions regarding the plan have to be made.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron on May 18 proposed the creation of a recovery fund worth €500 billion that would help the EU countries and industries hit hardest by the coronavirus pandemic. "The EU must act together, the nation state has no chance if it acts on its own," Merkel said in a joint online press conference with Macron. "This is the biggest challenge in the history of the EU."
Martin Helme: Contents of the plan are problematic
Helme said he doesn't support the plan in essence, but is also annoyed by how the plan was presented. "This initiative from two heads of state was not negotiated with other countries. This is very bad in itself, but the contents are problematic for us, too," the finance minister said in an interview to ERR's online news in Estonian.
According to Helme, the essence of the proposal is that all EU member states, including Estonia, will grant EU a guarantee which enables it to obtain a loan which will in turn be paid back through EU's long-term budget.
"This means either increased contributions to the EU budget which is clearly unacceptable for a number of states, or decreased disbursements to current net recipients which is something we cannot support," Helme said, adding that the proposal will thus irritate both net contributors and net recipients.
On whether Estonia should join the Netherlands, Austria, Denmark and Finland who oppose the plan and say a clear 'no' to it, Helme said that Estonia has coordinated its view with the countries mentioned.
Helme referred to the assessment of various lawyers, who say such schemes are clearly contradicting the EU treaties. "The question is not whether we want to help the Southern European countries that have been severely affected by the coronavirus crisis. The question is how it will be possible to achieve this so that countries and their constitutions are not steamrolled by them taking over old debts," Helme said.
"I cannot promise that the conservative faction will vote for such a scheme," the finance minister said.
Urmas Reinsalu: This is no small question for us
Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu (Isamaa) said on ETV's "Välisilm" on Monday that he agrees with former Bank of Estonia president Ardo Hansson, who calculated Estonia's proportion of the repayment to stand at around €1 billion.
"That is some four percent of our GDP. Currently our debt stands at around eight percent, but 80 percent for the entire EU. This isn't a small question for us. Our duty to the Estonian taxpayer is to figure it out and make rational decisions," he explained.
"If some states are in such deep trouble that they cannot manage themselves, Europe must help them. But there has to be understanding on how it will happen, who will be responsible and who will pay for it," the minister added.
Maris Lauri: Europe needs to become stronger
Member of the Riigikogu finance committee and former finance minister Maris Lauri (Reform) says she considers the plan with caution but understands its necessity. "Mutualization of debt should always be treated with caution, as it imposes additional burden and is unfair to a certain extent," she said on ETV's "Aktuaalne kaamera" on Monday.
"But if we look at the current situation, many heavily indebted poor countries find themselves in difficult budgetary and social situations. If we look at the global situation, Europe has to make itself stronger," Lauri said, adding that the idea of a mutual fund should not be cast aside, but it is important that the beneficiaries will bear the repayment of debts.
Even though the Riigikogu Finance Committee has yet to discuss the subject, chairman of the committee Aivar Kokk (Isamaa) personally inclines towards not supporting the idea in its current form, he told ERR on Monday.
"If someone asks for my personal opinion, I am certainly not willing to support the EU conditions, under which we - who have hitherto had tidy loan discipline - will be responsible for other countries. With our small budget, we cannot be held responsible for the loans of some Southern EU member states," Kokk said.
Editor: Anders Nõmm