EU's future at stake over coronavirus response, Italian PM warns

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Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has warned that the European Union could collapse if there is no agreement to grant the financial help to virus-struck southern members of the bloc. — Courtesy photo

LONDON — Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has warned that the European Union could collapse if there is no agreement to grant the financial help to virus-struck southern members of the bloc.

Italy and Spain, both of which have been badly hit by Covid-19, are pushing for greater economic assistance to deal with the devastating economic impact of the pandemic.

His warning came following a 16-hour videoconference in which the EU ministers failed to seal a deal on how far to go to support their stricken economies.

"We need an economic and social response at the European level," Conte told the BBC. "It's a big challenge to the existence of Europe.

"If Europe fails to come up with a monetary and financial policy adequate for the biggest challenge since World War 2, not only Italians but European citizens will be deeply disappointed."

"If we do not seize the opportunity to put new life into the European project, the risk of failure is real," Conte warned.

Meanwhile Germany has expressed hope the ministers would agree on a 500 billion euro economic rescue package on Thursday.

The ministers are due to reconvene at 3 p.m. GMT on Thursday to try to agree on the package that includes precautionary credit lines from the euro zone's ESM bailout fund, more lending for companies via the European Investment Bank and funding to help companies maintain liquidity during an economic slump by reducing work hours, rather than cutting jobs altogether.

The infection rate in Italy is slowing - the latest figures show positive cases increasing from the previous day by a little over 1%. Two weeks ago, the rise was 7%.

The death toll too shows signs of falling, from 919 a fortnight ago to 542 fatalities in the past 24 hours. But Giuseppe Conte warned Italy not to lower its guard and said that the national lockdown, imposed on 9 March, could only be eased gradually.

"We need to pick sectors that can restart their activity. If scientists confirm it, we might begin to relax some measures already by the end of this month." — Agencies


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