The German vowed to deliver the support needed to help Rome through the economic consequences of its three-week lockdown. Prime minister Giuseppe Conte was forced to extend his closure of businesses and ban on public gatherings until April 13 in a desperate bid to curb the spread of the deadly disease, which has blighted his country. Italy is the world’s worst-affected country with 13,155 deaths related to the COVID-19 outbreak and over 110,000 total cases.
After much of the bloc turned its back on Rome, Mrs von der Leyen promised to come to its rescue with an attempt to rebuild European solidarity.
In an open letter, she wrote: “Today Europe is mobilising alongside Italy. Unfortunately, this has not always been the case.
“It must be recognised that in the early days of the crisis, in the face of the need for a common European response, too many have thought only of their own home problems.”
The European Commission President claimed that she has already rolled out a list of measures designed to help revive Italy’s fortunes after the coronavirus crisis comes to an end.
“In the past month, the European Commission has left no stone unturned to help Italy,” she said.
But the EU’s most senior official refused to engage in a discussion over the so-called “coronabonds” scheme, a pan-European joint debt mechanism, which has been requested by Rome.
Instead she vowed to “allocate up to €100 billion to the hardest hit countries, starting from Italy, to compensate for the reduction in the wages of those working on shorter hours”.
The newly-minted measure provides “loans guaranteed by all member states – thus demonstrating European solidarity”.
Mrs von der Leyen vowed “every euro still available in the EU’s annual budget be spent on tackling the crisis”.
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The top eurocrat, however, was accused of simply delivering empty promises instead of concrete solutions.
Matteo Salvini, the League leader and former deputy prime minister, said: “Commission president von der Leyen has apologised today to Italy and Italians.
“She could have thought of this sooner. From Europe, all we are getting are words and smoke: zero substance.”
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The Italian prime minister called for strict spending rules associated with the bloc’s European Stability Mechanism bailouts to be dropped.
Mr Conte fumed: “If we are a union, now is the time to prove it.”
Germany and the Netherlands, who have both opposed the “coronabonds” concept, have insisted using existing EU structures are the best way to mitigate the economic chaos caused by the global pandemic.
EU leaders failed to find a common response during a European Council summit last week and gave their finance ministers more time to draft a new strategy.
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