Josep Borrell (Francois Lenoir / Reuters)
Jaume Masdeu | Brussels, Correspondent – 04/26/2020 00:29 Interview
Josep Borrell considers the last European Council very positive because it moved the debate from how to finance European solidarity to how to distribute it. He adds that it was utopian to wait longer and recommends that states strengthen their strategic autonomy and enter the capital of key companies to prevent them from falling into the hands of third parties. The interview was conducted on Friday by phone.
“Nationalists of all kinds say leave me alone, I know better how to do it; it is not true”
How do you rate the results of the EU summit on Thursday?
The spirit was very constructive because everyone has seen the wolf’s ears. We have seen the ears of our wolf, but we are still not aware of how big it is worldwide. There is going to be a world crisis of biblical dimension. Developing countries are going to lose all income. Exports, oil prices, raw materials, tourism, emigrant remittances, are all in ruins. In any case, at the European level, two important things were decided in the Council: to approve the proposal of the Eurogroup that provides a safety net of 540,000 million euros in loans, and to accept the principle of the recovery fund associated with the budget, but we have still to specify amount, financing and purpose.
Precisely, without these elements, the result is a bit unsatisfactory?
There is no need to underestimate things. That the principle of a recovery fund is accepted is important. It was utopian to think that yesterday more progress was going to be made, but that is already a lot.
Spain asks for investments in a lost fund, but the northern countries want to leave it in credits.
The fundamental political question is whether the cost of the crisis, which affects some countries more than others, will be shared by all. Is the cost paid by each country with its resources or do we share it? Until now, European solidarity has manifested itself by making it easier for states to get into debt. Now it is a matter of making a qualitative leap in how to organize European solidarity. What to do with these resources obtained by common debt issues? It is not helping the states to get into debt, but financing them with contributions in a lost fund. Sure, this raises discussion.
Can recovery be quick?
There has been a stoppage of blood circulation. It all depends on how many cells have died from necrosis before circulation starts up again, if companies go through financial quarantine. You have to maintain the financing of companies and the income of people, and you have to go fast. My fear is that the European mechanisms are slow.
Does Spain not suffer in the European Union due to the lack of internal consensus between the Government and the opposition?
Seen from Brussels, what counts is what is raised in the European Council, and the Spanish Government has made a well-structured proposal, praised by the international financial press and to which everyone recognizes consistency, and which clearly defines what it wants to do, how to do it and the amount.
The spokeswoman for the Generalitat, Meritxell Budó, said that in an independent Catalonia there would have been fewer deaths. What do you think of these statements?
There are things that are discussed by themselves alone, it is not necessary to sink the nail any further. I just remember that in Catalonia there have been very serious problems in nursing homes, starting with those of my town, La Pobla de Segur, where fortunately the army was able to intervene, and that I know is the responsibility of the Generalitat. And to deal with this problem, they had all the necessary powers. These statements have already been sufficiently commented in Catalonia. I see that people closer to the issue, such as Ada Colau, consider it to be moral misery. That is said by Colau. Those closest to the problem deserve to have their opinions taken into account.
Is the European Union failing its citizens?
The Commission did what it could, but the powers in health are in the states, and at the beginning the reaction of the states was uncoordinated, although later it was corrected. I have had to direct the repatriation of European tourists. We are already passing the 500,000 threshold through a common effort with all the states. I don’t know if these 500,000 are aware, but in the European Union we have invested a lot of effort and money to get them back home.
Does China present itself as a model that an authoritarian system better tackles this crisis?
China is making a great diplomatic effort accompanying the aid it provides to some European countries, appearing as a great power. Russia, too. At the beginning of the crisis, Europe helped China a lot, we sent more than 60 tons of medical material that we did not have later, and now China has returned this aid to us. But surely there has been more publicity on their part of the aid provided.
This crisis is demonstrating the problems of globalization. Will you agree with Trump’s protectionism?
Globalization must be rethought, until now we thought that the market always and everywhere supplies the necessary goods. But when a disruption like this comes, you realize that 90% of antibiotics are manufactured in China, that Europe does not produce one gram of paracetamol and that there are no emergency stocks for health crises. We must protect ourselves, rehabilitate the role of the State and better organize global governance. What the nationalists of all kinds say, leave me alone, because I am the only one to do it better, it is not true.
So do you share Macron’s call to recover industrial autonomy?
Some products will have to be produced in Europe, diversify and have their own capacity. Valuing the concept of strategic autonomy to solve situations like this, which we thought the market was going to solve, believing that all demand was going to be satisfied by a supply located at the other end of the world. It is about building security instruments, to reduce dependency and prevent other countries from taking control of our critical activities.
Do you propose to nationalize companies?
Nationalize, mutualize, …, words sometimes become toxic. Let’s say that states will have to provide capital to companies to avoid bankruptcy. France just announced it for Air France. It is also necessary to avoid that the falls in its market value facilitate its purchase by foreign powers. States will have to protect themselves, and one way is to take stakes in their capital. It is not Chaves’ doctrine, it is economic and political logic.