BRUSSELS – Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis left a meeting of European Union leaders with 72 billion euros ($82.38 billion) in COVID-19 relief funding from a bloc-wide package of 748.99 billion euros ($857 billion) in loans and grants for the stricken countries.
Mitsotakis said his conservative New Democracy overnment would manage the package “with responsibility and prudence.” The overall objective, he said, would be Greece’s “productive reconstruction.”
“We finally managed to launch a very ambitious reaction, a reaction that addresses the symmetrical shock caused by the pandemic,” he said after reports the four days of wrangling were contentious and argumentative and that Hungary and Poland should be especially monitored on their authoritarian governments spending.
“Today we have managed a very ambitious response, a response which responds to the symmetrical shock which the pandemic has triggered in all economies,” Mitsotakis said, the news agency Reuters reported.
He said the funds would be disbursed carefully in Greece and with meticulous planning. “We have no intention of spreading the money around with the carefree attitude of the nouveau-riche,” Mitsotakis said.
“We have no intention of wasting this significant European capital now at our disposal. We will invest it to the benefit of all Greeks,” he added.
His government had handed out 17.5 billion euros ($20.02 billion) in subsidies to workers temporarily laid off and businesses shut during a 10-week lockdown that was gradually lifted week by week after being imposed to prevent the spread of the virus.
The EU funding comes out of an unprecedented 1.8 trillion-euro ($2.1 trillion) budget after the 27 member states leaders committed to a costly, massive aid package for those hit hardest by COVID-19, which has already killed 135,000 people in the region.
“The consequences will be historic," French President Emmanuel Macron said. “We have created a possibility of taking up loans together, of setting up a recovery fund in the spirit of solidarity," a sense of sharing debt that would have been unthinkable not so long ago.
German Chancellor Merkel said, “We have laid the financial foundations for the EU for the next seven years and came up with a response to this arguably biggest crisis of the European Union."
Despite Macron and Merkel negotiating as the closest of partners, the traditionally powerful Franco-German alliance struggled for days to get the quarreling nations in line. But, even walking out of a negotiating session in protest together over the weekend, the two leaders bided their time and played their cards right in the end.
“When Germany and France stand together, they can’t do everything. But if they don’t stand together, nothing is possible," said Macron, challenging anyone in the world who criticized the days of infighting to think of a comparable joint endeavor.
“There are 27 of us around the table and we managed to come up with a joint budget. What other political area in the world is capable of that? None other," Macron said.
At first, Merkel and Macron wanted the grants to total 500 billion euros, but the so-called “frugals” — five wealthy northern nations led by the Netherlands — wanted a cut in such spending and strict economic reform conditions imposed. The figure was brought down to 390 billion euros ($446.24 billion) while the five nations also got guarantees on reforms.
“There is no such thing as perfection, but we have managed to make progress,” Macron also said.
(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)