Covid-19 Daily Report / 14/04/2020 / Auxipress

Covid-19 Weekly Report 14/04 - Media update on the crisis

In this weekly report, Auxipress gathers the key facts and figures of the Coronavirus crisis in the Belgian news.The following report is based on the analysis of the media agendas to evaluate the media visibility of the coronavirus. This methodology is based on the monitoring of almost 90 sources of printed and online press.

Number of articles over time

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Evolution of the main media issues related to the Coronavirus/Covid-19 crisis

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Media agenda

Media agenda: overview of the themes present in the total daily media context. i.e. the themes are not specifically linked to the coronavirus.

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€24 billion deficit this year, or even worse if confinement continues

Two Belgian articles deal with economic recovery and sovereign debt in Belgium. La Libre Belgique describes the budget cataclysm in Belgium, as each additional week of confinement due to the coronavirus costs the Belgian economy €4 billion. A large part of this amount goes to massive economic unemployment, with possibly one million Belgians affected. On the revenue side, Belgium will lose some dividends as a shareholder in large companies, and in the current scenario, the budget deficit for 2020 may amount to €30 billion, or 5% of GDP. The European Commission already promised leniency towards member states, so they can weather the storm and prepare for the economic relaunch, which will sooner or later lead to painful budget talks. On an exceptionally finely related note, La Libre Belgique reports that Belgian banks are scared to grant credit these days despite the ECB's pumping of €500 billion in the economy. Some banks argue that they need a framework to grant more credit, and the government has yet to provide one. Minister Alexander De Croo explains that the framework is coming. It first needed to be approved by the European Commission.

Impact on global trade: Clouds of doubt behind the apparent Chinese victory

Two articles in the same newspaper deal with global trade. Le Soir thoroughly analyses China's behaviour in the wake of the corona crisis. The daily notes that many European countries remain wary of Beijing. Voices arise that call for the relocation of manufacturing units from China back to the EU via the implementation of industrial policy or even protectionist measures. The European reaction already started before corona, when the EU refused to recognise China as a market economy as part of the World Trade Organization. The EU lacks tools in this battle against China: the EU software is still programmed following the idea that openness to maximum global trade creates wealth and growth. The member states need to look further than their national interests. The national reflexes observed during the corona pandemic remain China's trump card. 

Le Soir also devotes several sentences to globalisation. Professors André Sapir and Paul De Grauwe explain that one should not completely dump the concept of free trade. However, one must be aware of its adverse effects. Free trade can disrupt social and political systems. It can make a country overdependent on import. Historian Eric Toussaint speaks of an infernal logic rampant at the European Commission whereby competition between the member states benefits the multinationals and impairs the politicians' power to make decisions in the general interest. Mr Toussaint says there are a hundred solutions: either social Europe is taken seriously and one fights against fiscal, social and environmental dumping or the world after corona will be very similar to the world before the epidemic.

Is corona the crisis that will kill the EU?

Many sources analyse the European reaction to corona. In De Standaard, multiple European academics write that the corona crisis offers an exceptional opportunity to deepen further the European integration, or for Europe to start falling apart irreversibly. The European Parliament advocates a leap forward in European integration, but the European Commission is defaulting and showing a lack of leadership. The EU must show it is ready to help the EU citizens, and that it stands firm, shows unity and guarantees stability.

In Le Soir, philosopher Luuk van Middelaar says it is too soon to state that corona jeopardises the future of the EU, recalling that the EU was allegedly doomed very often during the euro crisis. A Europe specialist mentions that Europe is in grave danger: "Europe is not absent in this crisis; it is simply meaningless." The article quotes High Representative/Vice-President Borrell's blog: "It is time to show what European and global solidarity is. President von der Leyen is right to say history is watching us."

In De Standaard, Béatrice Delvaux wonders whether the EU will turn into a new version of the US where only those who pay their bills on time can be rescued from death. De Standaard interviews MEP Guy Verhofstadt (RE), who advocates more decision power for the Commission: "We need a vision and a strategy based on health, finance & economics and the protection of democracy. I hope Ms von der Leyen can do this."

L'Echo interviews Professor Jonathan Holslag, who states that the EU's responsiveness to Chinese propaganda proves Europe's weakening more than China's strengthening. The EU citizens have little trust in their own governments and in EU solidarity. In Het Laatste Nieuws, Noël Slangen wonders where President Michel has disappeared to and notes that the gap between the proponents of more Europe and those wanting a lighter EU is widening.

There can be no Union without trust

In La Libre Belgique, Olivier le Bussy writes that solidarity between member states seems less natural than one would hope, as European Finance Ministers have still not agreed on joint economic measures to tackle the corona crisis. Still, it is only normal that a €500 billion economic package for the Eurogroup, for the short term only, requires some serious discussion. What lacks the most now, is trust. The Italian government is calling for European bonds, which is still a taboo for the Dutch, the Germans and others. This shows us what we can expect from the Union in the years to come.

One country in Europe was perfectly prepared for the corona crisis: Finland

Nieuwsblad.be notes that Finland is not gripped by the coronavirus and the hunt for mouth masks, unlike the rest of Europe. The country currently has an excellent stock of medical equipment and food, which it built up out of fear for its Russian neighbour. Its Scandinavian neighbours also built up similar reserves, but let go of that self-discipline during the past years. Two weeks ago, the European Commission announced that it would follow the Finnish example and build up a stock of medical equipment "to help the member states during this pandemic" - a lesson Europe learned quite late.

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