EU unveils 750b euro Covid-19 aid plan
Latin America \'new centre of pandemic\'
Latin America 'new centre of pandemic'BRUSSELS, May 27: European Union chief Ursula von der Leyen on Wednesday proposed a 750-billion-euro post-virus recovery fund for Europe, but will have to win over sceptical member states to push it through.
The global coronavirus outbreak has already thrust the EU into its deepest ever recession, and Von der Leyen's proposal will set out to help the worst affected countries. If passed, the proposal would be the biggest EU stimulus package in history and could see Europe-wide taxes on plastics, carbon emissions and big tech -- a major power boost for Brussels.
The virus has killed more than 173,000 people in Europe and put its economy in a deep freeze, with businesses only slowly reopening and tight controls on borders still stifling travel and trade. The plan comes following big pressure from Italy and Spain, Europe's first victims of the outbreak and too burdened with heavy debts to alone rebuild their economies.
If member states accept the deal as drafted, Italy would receive 81.8 billion euros in direct aid over the next three years, and 77.3 billion euros would go to Spain. In all the EU would offer grants of 405 billion euros, with 28.8 billion euros going to Germany and 38.7 billion to France.
In addition, the countries would get loans, with Italy receiving credits for 90 billion euros and Spain 31 billion. The loans and grants to be offered to member states come to just over 650 billion euros and another 100 could be spent by EU-run rescue programmes, officials told AFP.
Merkel, the EU's most influential leader, also said that the aid could come through grants rather than loans, another policy U-turn by Berlin. The commission now faces a counter-proposal from the so-called Frugal Four: northern EU member states who have traditionally opposed transferring budgets to the indebted south.
While the virus continues to cause havoc in Latin America, Europe has slowly started reopening businesses as outbreaks on the continent slow, but Italy and Spain -- two of the hardest-hit countries -- lack the firepower of richer European nations to rebuild their economies.
But while many Western nations were inching back towards some form of normality, the virus was continued its march in Latin America, which has outpaced Europe and the United States in the number of daily infections.
"We are particularly concerned that the number of new cases reported last week in Brazil was the highest for a seven-day period, since the outbreak began," said Carissa Etienne, director of the Washington-based Pan American Health Organization.
"Both Peru and Chile are also reporting a high incidence, a sign that transmission is still accelerating in these countries."
Brazil reported the highest daily death toll in the world for the fifth straight day, pushing its total to 24,512 with infections soaring to more than 390,000.
The virus is also fuelling a political crisis in Brazil, where right-wing president Jair Bolsonaro has downplayed the COVID-19 threat and lashed out at state governors who have asked people to stay at home.
The United States remains the hardest-hit nation in the world, and with its death toll approaching 100,000, President Donald Trump has weathered a torrent of criticism for his handling of the crisis -- and for not wearing a mask in public despite recommendations from his own administration's experts.
The right-wing leader, battling to get re-elected this year, kicked off another storm by retweeting criticism of his presumptive election rival, Joe Biden, for following guidelines by wearing a mask during Memorial Day commemorations.
Biden hit back, blasting Trump as an "absolute fool".
Trump is keen for a quick turnaround with the US economy battered and tens of millions unemployed, and has pressured local and state leaders to ease lockdowns. -REUTERS