Eurozone crisis: EU chiefs to use £374bn rescue fund as economy suffers from coronavirus

Ministers last night asked the European Union’s single currency bloc to consider new ways of tackling an economic crisis provoked by the deadly disease. Eurogroup president Mario Centeno warned there was “little doubt the virus is unleashing a severe economic downturn”. He ordered governments to fight with “everything we have got” to protect citizens and the euro currency.

“We are not taking any possible solutions off the table,” he said.

“Rest assured that we will defend the euro with everything we have got.”

EU officials are now investigating whether the bloc’s £374 billion European Stability Mechanism, an emergency fund set up after the last financial crisis, can be used to sure up the economy.

Originally built to bailout nations at the peak of the debt crisis, the ESM has been mostly unused since Greece left its emergency programme in 2018.

Eurozone ministers discussed the plans during a telephone conference last night, and agreed measures worth one percent of gross domestic product and liquidity facilities of at least 10 percent of GDP.

These will consider of public guarantee schemes and deferred tax payments to keep businesses afloat.

In a statement, they said: “These figures could be much larger going forward.”

Klaus Regling, the head of the European Stability Mechanism, said: “We have a number of facilities and several of them have never been used.”

ESM funding is often tied to strict conditions, such as tightening public spending plans or economic reforms.

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Governments, including tight-spending Germany and the Netherlands, have acknowledged that an expansionary fiscal policy will be necessary to help companies survive through the coronavirus outbreak.

Mr Regling added: “We were asked to look at what we can do, how we can contribute under these very difficult circumstances.”

European capitals have been warned by the European Commission that “GDP growth in 2020 might fall to well below zero or event be substantially negative as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, and a coordinated economic response of member states and EU institutions is crucial to mitigate these negative repercussions on the EU economy.”

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Finance ministers have been invited to weekly teleconferences to continue how they can further ramp up their responses to the coronavirus crisis.

But economists have already called on them to do more, some questioning why the EU has not already suspended its tight budget rules.

Lucas Guttenberg at the Jacques Delors Centre in Berlin said the Eurogroup “failed to send a clear message that it has the political will and the tools in place to keep the Eurozone together in the coming months”.

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