Belgium abstains as EU approves coronavirus aid package

Belgium abstains as EU approves coronavirus aid package
The Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative frees up €37 billion for EU countries' response to the coronavirus crisis. © Eric Lalmand / Belga

Regional divisions led Belgium to abstain on a vote on approving €37 billion in EU funding for member states' response to the new coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.

The EU Council approved the Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative on Monday, an aid package which will release funds to boost nations' health-related spending and for cushioning the economic blow of the coronavirus crisis.

As the response mechanism was outlined by the Council in mid-March, Flanders' regional leader, Jan Jambon, spoke out against the measure before the Flemish parliament, arguing Flanders was again being "punished" by the allocation mechanisms.

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Around €37 million of the Council's package are set to be funnelled into Belgium's national coffers, out of which an estimated €6.5 million is meant for Flanders, the region with the highest number of Covid-19 cases.

The money will come from unused reserves from the EU's Cohesion funds, financial packages allocated to member states for regional development projects, with the funds then distributed between country regions according to their financial situation.

After the initiative was approved by the European Parliament last week, the EU Council on Monday gave its final and formal approval to the funding, in a vote in which Belgium was the only member state to abstain, reports De Standaard.

In line with the initial text, the final version of the initiative includes a provision giving member states "greater flexibility to make transfers between cohesion policy programmes in order to redirect resources to where they are most needed."

The Council on Monday also amended to the EU's Solidarity Fund (which boosts countries' response to natural disasters), to include public health emergencies.

Both acts are set to be inscribed into EU law on Tuesday and set to enter into force on 1 April.

Gabriela Galindo

The Brussels Times

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