by Nikolaus J. Kurmayer
Austria and Finland locked shoulders in opposing new EU joint debt ahead of the Munich Security Conference amid growing calls to up EU spending to face competitors like the US.
EU countries agreed to a “once in a lifetime” €750 billion NextGenerationEU package in response to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic – yet Austria and Finland believe spending should stop there.
“Finland will not allow any more debt,” said Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin on Friday before she attended the Munich Security Conference.
“No new fund,” stressed Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer, who spoke alongside her.
The push for joint EU debt to match the US Inflation Reduction Act comes from countries like France and Italy and is even backed by the European Commission.
Pushback comes from the group formerly known as the “Frugal Four” – Austria, Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands – though Finland’s recent comments suggest it is slowly veering towards the group.
According to Nehammer, relying on the existing joint debt from 2020 would have to be enough. Of the €800 billion, only €400 billion had so far been spent, he said.
While Finland and Austria openly agreed on joint debt and migration issues, where Vienna seeks to drive the EU policy process forward, other matters were more contentious.
Marin stressed the need to phase out Russian gas as quickly as possible, a jab at Austria falling back into its heavy reliance on Kremlin’s gaseous hydrocarbons.
*first published in: Euractiv.com