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Bonkers! EU hands out its Covid-19 emergency funds: Hungary (199 deaths) gets €5.6bn, Italy (23,000 deaths) gets €2.3bn

Damian Wilson
Damian Wilson
is a UK journalist, ex-Fleet Street editor, financial industry consultant and political communications special advisor in the UK and EU.
is a UK journalist, ex-Fleet Street editor, financial industry consultant and political communications special advisor in the UK and EU.
Bonkers! EU hands out its Covid-19 emergency funds: Hungary (199 deaths) gets €5.6bn, Italy (23,000 deaths) gets €2.3bn
Just when you thought its handling of the pandemic couldn’t get any worse, Brussels plunges to new depths by giving countries with far fewer cases much more than those who’ve seen thousands die. Do they WANT Italy to break away?

When European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen issued a grovelling “heartfelt apology” to Italy on behalf of Europe last week for its lack of help at the onset of the country’s Covid-19 pandemic, the gesture was accepted at face value.

But this week, as the EU announced a Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative of €37 billion that it would apparently dole out to countries hit hardest by the pandemic, there was another bodyblow for the Italians when, frankly, the nation is already on the ropes.

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With a population of 60 million, more than 178,972 Covid-19 cases and 23,660 deaths so far, and an economy in crisis, Italy has been handed €2.3 billion from the fund to help it battle its economic ills.

Not bad, you might think, but if there is ever a cack-handed way of handling a sensitive issue – such as who gets what from a slush fund that was cobbled together from unspent money elsewhere (that’s a lot of change down the back of the sofa, and another story) – then the EU will find it.

And sure enough, while the Italians won’t say no to a couple of billion Euros, compare their case to that of Hungary. With a population of just under 10 million people and only 1,984 infections and 199 deaths so far (still too many, granted) from Covid-19, it has been handed €5.6 billion – around two and a half times the amount given to Italy.

Someone in Brussels needs new batteries in their calculator.

Laughably, Hungary is also the country led by the EU’s very own nemesis, Viktor Orban, who, on the same day the fund was announced, pushed through unprecedented powers for himself in the Hungarian Parliament. This caused outrage in Brussels, leading some to call for Hungary to be booted out of the bloc altogether.

So much for that! Seems the carrot and stick approach is pretty much all carrots here!

President von der Leyen, in her apology to Rome for the EU’s inaction, grandiosely declared: “The European budget will be the mothership of the recovery.”

She went on to claim: “It is transparent and it is time-tested as an instrument for cohesion, convergence and investment.”

Some would also say that it is fatally flawed and simply piles mistake upon mistake, which is how Hungary ended up with its unjustifiably huge slice of the pie.

Members of the EU that are net funding recipients currently will simply be given more money on top of what they already get, because they are considered to be the nations most in need every time the purse opens.

Then you have the Poles, the biggest net recipients of EU funds by some distance, getting twice as much as second-placed Hungary (see the pattern?). They have already put down a marker saying they should not be expected to dip into the money they presently receive from the EU in order to address any economic issues resulting from the pandemic, which so far has resulted in their comparatively low tally of 362 deaths.

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That is the sort of financial logic my 10-year-old uses when I suggest she might like to use the pocket money she has saved up to spend while she’s on holiday as I wasn’t planning to give her any more. 

Surely, of the billions and billions of euros the EU gives to its members, some must be earmarked for a rainy day? Apparently not.

And that is how “transparent” the EU budget is. All anyone needs to understand is that there are limitless pots of cash available if you know how to play the game. It’s no secret, and everyone knows it.

Try to take any of that away, or make adjustments so that “who gets what” is a bit fairer, and oh my, you will hear the roars of outrage from the European capitals.

I thought I’d misheard last week when President von der Leyen claimed: “Europe has now become the world's beating heart of solidarity. The real Europe is standing up, the one that is there for each other when it is needed the most.”

That’s the sort of nonsensical guff that exists in the head of over-caffeinated speechwriters and has no foundation in reality.

As the EU members scratch and claw in the catfight for a piece of the coronavirus fund action, we will see what this idea of solidarity in times of crisis really looks like.

And it ain't pretty.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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