EU clears key hurdle for Euro 1.8 Trillion spending package
European Union negotiators reached a preliminary deal with the bloc’s lawmakers on a mechanism linking recovery funds to abiding by democratic standards, moving a step closer to a broader accord on the bloc’s 1.8 trillion-euro ($2 trillion) budget and stimulus package.
“We have witnessed months and even years of rule-of-law talks dragging on without conclusion between EU member states,” said European lawmaker Petri Sarvamaa, who was negotiating on behalf of the Parliameent. “This will not be the case anymore with the new budgetary clause.”
The EU is under pressure to finalize the emergency package so that it will be operational next year, as a new set of lockdowns across the continent paints a grim picture of Europe’s economic outlook and dims prospects for a quick rebound.
While leaders agreed on the broad outlines of the unprecedented package in July, they left key details to be fleshed out later, including the contentious link between EU funds and rule of law. EU officials are due to set out details of the compromise at a press conference at noon on Thursday.
“Introducing this conditionality is a major step and a clear signal that the EU stands ready to protect its citizens’ interest,” EU Budget Commissioner Johannes Hahn said.
The deal on the rule-of-law mechanism clears the first of two key hurdles in getting an overall deal and allowing the EU’s 750 billion-euro recovery fund to be up and running in January as planned. Still, lawmakers and EU governments remain at odds over increases to the bloc’s budget, with the Parliament asking for a bigger overall package.
While the agreement on the rule of law could give fresh impetus on the stalled talks over the spending package, it is still unclear whether it will get the support of all EU nations -- especially Hungary and Poland, the two members of the bloc that are currently the subject of formal rule-of-law probes.
At stake is whether the EU can swiftly deliver hundreds of billions in much-needed funds to combat the steepest recession on record, while making sure the money isn’t misappropriated by countries where democratic checks and balances are weak.
If a deal is delayed or blocked, that could derail the bloc’s plans to issue debt on the markets to give out to EU nations as grants and loans in order to help their economic recovery.
The EU requires only a qualified majority of nations to impose the rule-of-law conditions on the funds, but the European Commission requires the unanimous approval of all member states (and a majority of EU lawmakers) to borrow from the markets. That means that in practice Hungary or Poland could veto the plan if they don’t like the rule-of-law language.
Salman Rushdie, the acclaimed author who was hospitalized on Friday with serious injuries after being repeatedly stabbed at a public appearance in New York state, is off a ventilator and his condition is improving, his agent and a son said on Sunday. One of Rushdie's sons said his father remained in critical condition but was able to say a few words after getting off the ventilator.
The de facto US embassy in Taipei said the delegation is being led by Senator Ed Markey, who is being accompanied by four other lawmakers on what it described as part of a larger visit to the Indo-Pacific region.
The EU on Sunday said it was "particularly concerned" about worsening conditions for women and girls in Afghanistan after the country's ruling Taliban violently broke up a women's rally. Taliban fighters on Saturday fired in the air and beat up protesters taking part in a women's "bread, work and freedom" march in Kabul. It also stressed that "Afghanistan must also not pose a security threat to any country" per UN Security Council resolutions.
A fire that broke out Sunday in a Coptic Christian church in Egypt's capital Cairo killed 41 people, church officials said. President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi declared on his Facebook page that "I have mobilised all state services to ensure that all measures are taken". Copts are the largest Christian community in the Middle East, making up at least 10 million of Egypt's 103 million people. Egypt has suffered several deadly fires in recent years.
An explosion at a retail market in the Armenian capital Yerevan on Sunday sparked a fire, killing one person and injuring 20, the emergency situations ministry said. Photos and videos posted on social media showed a thick column of black smoke over the market and successive detonations could be heard. The ministry said there were 10 firefighting trucks on the spot and another 10 were on their way.