EU to suspend budget rules to help face virus crisis
BRUSSELS, March 21: The European Commission said on Friday that the EU would suspend its strict rules on public deficits to allow governments to open the money taps to face the coronavirus pandemic.
In an unprecedented decision, Brussels triggered something called the "general escape clause", giving countries free rein to "inject spending into the economy as needed," EU chief Ursula von der Leyen said.
The temporary measure effectively halts strict oversight by Brussels of national spending and will be welcome in Italy, the country suffering most from the novel coronavirus and one often in violation of EU rules.
EU finance ministers are widely expected to formally approve the clause next week. According to EU law, the derogation is only allowed in cases of "an unusual event outside the control" of a member state.
Italy has announced a 25-billion-euro spending bonanza, with fellow debt-rule breakers France and Belgium following suit with their own massive spending sprees.
The escape clause was created in 2011 in the height of a debt crisis, when the rules on debt and deficits were tightened in an effort to preserve the single currency bloc from further shocks.
Known as the stability and growth pact, the rules theoretically limit a country's deficit to three per cent of annual output and debt to 60 per cent, a number that Italy has more than doubled in recent years.
An EU spokeswoman said that triggering the escape clause will allow countries to spend without limit on medical equipment, enforcing containment measures and on expanding hospitals.
Once approved, the measure will be the biggest collective gesture so far by governments, but still a far cry from the effort from the European Central Bank, which has announced 750 billion euros in monetary stimulus to reassure the markets and freed up banks to lend an extra 1.8 trillion euros. -AFP