As EU top dogs attempt to agree on a Covid-19 rescue package for the worst-affected member states, including Italy and Spain, Dutch PM Mark Rutte publicly reaffirmed his view on the matter to a concerned voter: “No, no, no.”
Rutte was approached on Wednesday by a worker at a waste collection plant, who implored: “Please! Do not give the Italians and Spanish the money!”
“Oh! No, no, no,” Rutte responded in a comment captured by news cameras, adding that he would “take note” of the request, all while offering a thumbs up to the worker.
The exchange was a timely reminder that domestic politics often trumps European “unity” when it comes to touchy subjects like financial bailouts.
While EU finance ministers last week agreed on a short-term rescue package of about €540 billion ($588.3 billion) for hard-hit member states, it is still struggling to agree on debt distribution, with Germany and the Netherlands in particular reluctant to spread the burden around too much.
Rutte’s comment sparked angry backlash from some of the more unity-minded MEPs on Twitter, who said his rhetoric flies in the face of EU solidarity.
“This is really shameful,” MEP and vice-president of the European Greens Ernest Urtasun tweeted, adding that Rutte was feeding domestic nationalism which could ultimately break apart the EU.
“This is not a football match, there’s no rival to beat. We are part of the same team,”wrote Iratxe Garcia Perez, a Spanish politician who leads the socialist bloc of MEPs in the European Parliament.
Rutte’s comment did not go unnoticed in Spanish and Italian media either, with the El Espanol news website writing that the Dutch PM was continuing to work hard to create “antipathy” to southern Europe. Meanwhile, an article in Italian newspaper Il Giornale said the exchange “speaks volumes about the phantom European solidarity.”
Spain and Italy have been the worst-affected countries in Europe so far in the coronavirus pandemic, with Spain reporting almost 240,000 cases of Covid-19 and over 24,500 deaths, while Italy has over 203,000 confirmed cases and reported nearly 28,000 deaths as of April 30.
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