The EU Commission chief apologized to Italy for the bloc’s sloppy coronavirus response, pledging €100 billion to help the hard-hit nation. But the help might never arrive, as mutualizing debt is opposed by EU fat cats.
“Today Europe is mobilizing alongside Italy. Unfortunately, this has not always been the case,” Ursula von der Leyen said in a letter published by Italy’s La Repubblica newspaper on Thursday.
It must be recognized that in the early days of the crisis, in the face of the need for a common European response, too many… thought only of their own… problems.
After apologizing for the inaction, however, the EU Commission chief proceeded to praise the ‘help’ provided to Italy by the bloc’s members. “In the past month, the European Commission has left no stone unturned to help Italy,” she insisted.
The apology left Italian politicians unimpressed, as they urged the EU not only to talk, but to prove it is actually a union. Apparently, Rome did not notice the ‘help’ von der Leyen bragged about.
“I believe that everyone will eventually realize even in those countries that a shared, orderly, strong and rapid European response is the only solution,” Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte told Spanish La Sexta TV. “A slow response would be a useless response.”
A similar response came from Matteo Salvini, head of the opposition League, Italy’s most popular political party. He took to Twitter to mock the apology from the EU bigwig.
Commission President von der Leyen has apologized today to Italy and Italians. She could have thought of this sooner. From Europe, all we are getting are words and smoke: zero substance.
Later in the day, von der Leyen apparently tried to add some actual substance to the apology, rolling out the idea for a new financial package to subsidize salaries at companies struggling with the coronavirus fallout. The scheme, called SURE, would provide a total of €100 billion ($109 billion) in loans to EU member states to prevent massive lay-offs.
Every available € in the EU budget will be directed to address the #coronavirus crisis, rule will be eased to enable the funding to flow rapidly and effectively. With the new solidarity instrument, SURE, the EU will mobilise €100 bn to keep people in jobs & businesses running. pic.twitter.com/68qFhTwGbH
— Ursula von der Leyen (@vonderleyen) April 2, 2020
The EU Commission would take loans on the international financial markets and then lend funds to the bloc’s members, particularly those with already damaged economies. Still, the EU would need a €25 billion guarantee from all the members for the scheme.
To actually get implemented, the plan has to be approved by all the EU member states – and no one can be entirely ‘SURE’ about it getting through. Last week, the EU nations already clashed over a similar idea of issuing eurobonds – sometimes referred to as ‘coronabonds’ – EU-backed debt to help member states out of recession and increase spending on healthcare.
The coronabond idea has been supported by the countries affected the most by the virus, namely Italy, Spain, and France. Other, more well-off EU members, like Germany and the Netherlands, strongly oppose the idea of issuing bonds together with heavily indebted nations.
Italy and Spain were offered use of the European Stability Mechanism, which grants conditional financial assistance to countries in dire financial straits, to which Salvini responded that he doesn’t want the Germans and the Dutch to “come to demand money from our children,” and later calling the ESM a “mortgage on the future of Italians.”