EU apologizes to Italy over coronavirus crisis

BRUSSELS (AA): The president of the European Commission on behalf of Europe asked for an apology from Italy for not sufficiently helping the country at the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak.

In her speech at the European Parliament’s plenary session, Ursula von der Leyen admitted that “no one was really ready” for the crisis in Europe.

“It is also true that too many were not there on time when Italy needed a helping hand at the very beginning,” she added, offering a “heartfelt apology” in the name of whole Europe to the country most heavily affected by the pandemic in the continent.

Von der Leyen interpreted the apology as the beginning of a change, and praised Europe for becoming “the world’s beating heart of solidarity”, citing examples of EU states sending medical equipment and personnel to Italy.

She continued her speech by calling for a European Marshall plan for recovery “to be put in place immediately”.

She sees the EU budget as the basis for the economic readjustment, but the slight restructuring of the 2020 budget to be approved by the EU Parliament this week will not cover all aspects of the project.

Neither would 2021-27 budgetary framework which would only represent 1-1.3% of the EU’s GDP and supposed to cover a whole range of other policies.

Von der Leyen’s apology to Italy was followed by informing of a recovery plan which looks quite remarkable in the context of past month’s clash among EU states on finding an agreement over the bailout measures to help countries most heavily struck by the economic crisis.

The main divide emerged among the southern European states of Italy, Spain, and France, and the northwestern countries of Germany, the Netherlands, Austria, and Finland.

While the Mediterranean countries were insisting on launching an EU-wide economic recovery program financed by Eurobonds, the other group was adamant on refusing common debt.

Eurozone finance ministers finally agreed on a $590-billion financial plan to support workers, business and healthcare last week, which rather reflected the frugal camp’s victory.

But Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte seems to be the fiercest advocate for the Marshall plan. He has already implied that he would raise again the idea of Eurobonds at the EU leaders’ videoconference summit next week.

Globally, more than 2.08 million people have been infected by coronavirus, with the death toll exceeding 139,400, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Over 528,300 people recovered so far.