Cardinal says EU leaders have ‘chosen solidarity’ as they back coronavirus recovery fund

Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, Archbishop of Luxembourg, at the Vatican, Oct. 5, 2019. Credit Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

A cardinal praised European Union leaders Tuesday for showing solidarity with pandemic-hit member states after they reached agreement on a coronavirus recovery fund. 

Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, S.J., the archbishop of Luxembourg, told Vatican News July 21 that the EU’s 27 member states had “chosen solidarity.”

“I am glad that the 27 have got there. The European Union must express — it is in its nature — solidarity. This is part of the DNA of the European Union,” he said. 

Hollerich, president of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union (COMECE), said he was “very happy” that the fund would benefit Italy, Spain and France, the EU countries hit hardest by the pandemic.

COVID-19 has killed an estimated 135,000 EU citizens and damaged the bloc’s economy, which is expected to contract by 8.3% this year. 

EU leaders agreed a 1.82 trillion euro ($2.1 trillion) budget and coronavirus recovery fund early Tuesday morning after four days of intensive haggling.

The budget includes a 750 billion euro recovery fund, which will consist of 390 billion euros in grants and 360 billion euros in loans.

A group of countries nicknamed the “frugal five” — the Netherlands, Austria, Finland, Sweden and Denmark — blocked an initial plan to offer 500 billion euros in grants and 250 billion euros in loans.

Countries that receive loans will have to begin repaying them from 2027, when the seven-year budget ends.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said that 28% of the 750 billion euros will go to Italy. The sum of 209 billion euros will be divided between 81 billion euros in grants and 127 billion euros in loans. 

Hollerich said: “I feel deeply European and I cannot imagine a Europe that is not in solidarity. We are all in the same situation. And I think that helping others will also be a blessing for one’s own economy.” 

Hollerich noted that the EU would face great challenges in the coming years. 

“I think Europe has problems today: Europe is no longer the economic center of the world with the United States. The world has changed and then I think that the COVID crisis has accelerated this change,” he said. 

“We will bear the consequences of this pandemic, but I hope, above all for young people, that this will allow them to live their lives in peace and always be conscious of the fact that we must help others.”

Earlier this month, COMECE launched a joint statement with the Conference of European Churches, a fellowship of 114 Orthodox and Protestant communities, as Germany took over the presidency of the Council of the EU, which rotates among EU members every six months. 

The document, “Together for Europe’s Recovery,” welcomed Germany’s commitment to overseeing a coronavirus recovery plan.

“The proposed recovery plan sets out a clear perspective for a Europe with the aim to grow united, on the basis of solidarity, and would complement the many immediate initiatives that the EU has taken in response to the crisis,” it said.

Hollerich suggested that the bleak global economic outlook should not discourage EU countries from accepting migrants.

He said: “We are called to share what is necessary to help other people. Yesterday in my house I received an Iraqi family. In this time of pandemic they made masks for many other people. It’s a very beautiful idea and you can see that Europe also receives a lot if it is open to giving something.”