Brussels divided: Splits appear as EU states battle coronavirus – ‘This is NOT enough!’

Members of the European Council held a videoconference yesterday to discuss the next steps as the crisis deepened and tens of millions of people were placed in lockdown and life in towns and cities ground to a halt. After the talks, a spokesman said: “We reaffirmed the need to work together and to do everything necessary to tackle the crisis and its consequences.”

More collective action needed and the European Council as ‘decider of last resort’ must take the lead

Janis Emmanouilidis

But Janis Emmanouilidis, Director of Studies at European Policy Centre thinktank, was hoping for more from the EU leadership.

He tweeted: “The European Council endorsed a limited Eurogroup statement and invited it to monitor developments and adapt coordinated policy response to rapidly evolving situation.

“THIS IS NOT ENOUGH. More collective action needed and the European Council as ‘decider of last resort’ must take the lead.”

The EU has struggled to find a coherent response to the outbreak, with countries imposing their own border checks in what is normally a zone of control-free travel, limiting exports of medical equipment or failing to share key data swiftly.

Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte said coronavirus was causing a “socio-economic tsunami” as European leaders agreed to seal off external borders.

But many countries thwarted solidarity by imposing frontier curbs of their own.

Speaking after the videoconference, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said: “The enemy is the virus and now we have to do our utmost to protect our people and to protect our economies.

“We are ready to do everything that is required. We will not hesitate to take additional measures as the situation evolves.”

Mr Conte, whose country has been hardest hit by a global health crisis now centred in Europe, warned no nation would be left untouched by the “tsunami”.

He called for special “coronavirus bonds”, or a European guarantee fund, to help member states finance urgent health and economic policies.

Rome has issued similar calls for joint EU funding during previous crises, usually running into opposition from the bloc’s most powerful economy and paymaster, Germany.

Asked about Mr Conte’s proposal, Chancellor Angela Merkel said eurozone finance ministers would continue discussing ways to help their economies cushion the impact but no decision has been made.

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She said: “These are initial discussions and there have been no decisions by the finance ministers.”

The European Commission warned member states that this was just the beginning of the crisis and said it would run for “months rather than weeks”.

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