Feature image: Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron at a European Council Summit in 2017. Photo by European Council shared under a CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license
Welcome to This Week in Europe, a new series on All Abroad. Every Friday brings you a rundown of the biggest or most interesting stories in Europe from the week.
EU Stimulus package
The biggest news to come out of Europe this week is the EU leaders’ agreement to a €750 billion recovery fund to help rebuild the economies of EU countries. The agreement also came with an accord on the EU’s budget, the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF), which will set spending priorities for the bloc for 2021-2027. They agreed to €1.1 trillion for the MFF.
With both the recovery fund and the usual budget framework, EU leaders are hoping to help European businesses rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic, reform economies over the long-term, and invest in measures to prevent future crises. The summit of the European Council, which convenes the 27 heads of state and the European Council President Charles Michel, was scheduled for Friday, July 17 and Saturday, July 18. It stretched into a five-day marathon, with the final agreement being handed down on Tuesday, July 21.
EU leaders were previously deadlocked on how to handle the EU budget, as well as the pandemic recovery. Of the €750 billion recovery fund, €390 will be distributed as grants. The rest will come as loans. Countries hard-hit by the coronavirus, like Spain and Italy, were in favor of grants, whereas the “Frugal Four” – Netherlands, Denmark, Austria, and Sweden – balked. The Frugals were afraid such an arrangement would saddle their countries with debt.
French President Emmanuel Macron has called this deal “historic”, as it’s the first time the EU will be a major borrower in global financial markets. Macron, along with other EU leaders, also claims the agreement as a huge victory for European solidarity and sees it as a positive step for the bloc’s coronavirus recovery.
Zelensky and Earthlings documentary hostage situation
With the news of the EU stimulus package, other events took a backseat this week. A few stories caught our attention, however, including the odd hostage situation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenksy. He released a video on Facebook urging people to watch the 2005 documentary Earthlings, a film about animal abuse narrated by actor Joaquin Phoenix. The President later took the video down and released a statement explaining that it was part of a negotiation with a man holding 13 people hostage on a bus in the city of Lutsk. Zelenksy was the object of both criticism and praise for his actions. All of the hostages were released safely and the man holding them was arrested.
Cathedral catches fire in Nantes
The famous St. Peter’s and St. Paul’s cathedral in Nantes, France, caught fire on Saturday, July 18. The fire destroyed the organ, shattered stained glass windows, and sent smoke out between the cathedral’s towers. Investigators were looking into the cause of the fire when a church volunteer admitted to setting it. He was charged with arson and taken into custody on Saturday, July 25. Many of the works from the cathedral were saved and moved to the castle in Nantes. Most of the organ, however, will likely not be saved. The blaze brought back memories of the Notre Dame fire in Paris in April 2019. The damage to the Gothic cathedral in Nantes seems to be less extensive, though.
Read last week’s edition of This Week in Europe.