iDNES
Czech online portal associated to the daily Mladá Fronta DNES
Geopolitics

EU Recovery Plan, A Turning Point Or Same Old Deal?

Today, the European Commission will unveil plans for an unprecedented EU economy recovery package in the face of the coronavirus crisis. The proposed EU rescue fund comes on the heels of last week's surprise announcement that French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel had agreed to a 500-billion-euro recovery package set out to help the worst affected countries, locking European member countries together on the fiscal plane for the first time in history. Still, the plan will have to unite all 28 member states, which is far from certain.

Southern European countries, such as badly-hit Italy and Spain, are on board with Macron and Merkel. Yet opposition is brewing from many sides. First, the most visible holdouts are the "Frugal Four" — Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden — who have come up with a counterproposal, pushing for loans instead of grants, and requiring strict controls over spending and time limits on repayment.

But resistance is also coming from Central and Eastern Europe, where countries are generally less affected by the coronavirus crisis than elsewhere, and could even become net contributors to the fund. Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš quipped that the Franco-German approach would effectively "penalize countries for successfully handling the pandemic."

While some have called the recovery plan a defining moment in EU integration, others say its importance is hugely exaggerated, both by its critics and supporters. Columnist Annika Ström Melin argues in the Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter that although the new recovery fund might change the character of the Union, it still falls far short of transforming the EU into a federation of nations. Given that the fund is not so large in relation to national budgets, and the loans would not be distributed as candy but allocated towards investments focusing on green business and digital transformation, "it is more reasonable to regard the new fund as yet another stone in the pragmatic, ever-changing and problem-solving structure that is the EU."

Pragmatism or revolution? With the world turned upside-down by COVID-19, it's a question that goes far beyond European Union politics.

Geopolitics

How Criminals Exploit A Coronavirus World

With a large chunk of the world's population forced still to stay at home, local communities and entire nations are recording steep drops in overall crime rates.

Burglars are generally less likely to prey on a home that's occupied, and most theft and assault hotspots such as sporting venues and pubs are shuttered. Still, it's not all a pretty picture, as the unique dynamic of national lockdowns puts new pressure on law enforcement and spurs more cases of certain crimes.

Italy's L'Espresso weekly "Criminal Contagion: How the Mafia is getting rich from coronavirus'

Here's a quick tour of the world of crime in the time of coronavirus:

  • Gangs on the rise: In Mexico, about 200 criminal groups see the COVID-19 crisis as an opportunity to grow their influence. Positioning themselves as guardians and protectors of communities, the gangs use extortion, kidnapping and violence on a regular basis. Forbes Mexico reports that the country's already high homicide rate rose even more, hitting a new record in March, as the state redirected resources into containing the health crisis and trying to prop up its sluggish economy.

  • Plague of domestic abuse: Reports from China to France to Argentina confirm fears that confining families to their homes will increase domestic violence. In Israel, the daily Haaretz reported that the number of cases opened by the police involving sex crimes within the family jumped by 41% this March compared to last year.

  • Digital delinquents: Since a big part of our lives went online, crimes are bound to follow. The Swedish newspaper ETC has reported an increase in online pedophile activity and cyberbullying. Europol warns about cyber-attacks exploiting the global chaos, including fraudulent online sale of COVID-19 tests, face masks and sanitizers.

  • Mob stories: In Italy, some fear that cash-strapped, small- and medium-sized entrepreneurs will turn to the mafia to save their businesses. This way, mafia money enters in competition with the social and business support programs set up by the government, Radio France Internationale reported. According to Mario Vaudano, the former anti-mafia magistrate, other European countries with a significant mafia presence, including Slovakia, Poland or Malta, are in a high risk to see organized crime capitalize on the pandemic.

  • Police brutality: In some countries, authorities have been accused of excessive violence and abuse when enforcing the curfew, reported Le Monde. In the first days of lockdown in Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Senegal and elsewhere, social media were flooded with images showing the military and police beating people in the streets, forcing them to do push-ups or even dancing in front of the camera while reciting curfew restrictions.

  • Crimes of contagion: Curiously, the pandemic is also giving rise to some new, illness-related offenses. "Malicious coughing" is now a crime and has already sent a man in the UK to jail for six months. In the Czech Republic, a man posted on social media that he has coronavirus and licks bread in supermarkets for fun, the Czech news site iDNES.cz reported. The suspect is now facing up to eight years in prison for scaremongering during a state of emergency.

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