Italian PM Warns European Union Could Collapse Over Coronavirus

Police officers wearing masks patrol an empty St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Wednesday, March 11, 2020. Pope Francis held his weekly general audience in the privacy of his library as the Vatican implemented Italy’s drastic coronavirus lockdown measures, barring the general public from St. Peter’s Square and taking precautions …
AP Photo/Andrew Medichini

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte floated the idea of all of Europe doing “things on their own” due to the European Union’s poor response to Italy’s tragic experience with the Chinese coronavirus.

“We do not expect Germany and Holland to pay our debts, but the fiscal policy rules must be loosened, otherwise we will have to write off Europe, and everyone will do things on their own,” said Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte in a recent interview with the German newspaper, Bild on Eurobonds, according to a report by La Repubblica.

Conte is calling on the EU to rise to the challenge in helping countries that have been worst hit by the Wuhan virus by issuing Eurobonds, or “coronabonds,” so that all EU nations can assist in paying off coronavirus-related debt.

The Italian prime minister warned the EU that it is also in their interest to do so.

“It is in mutual interest that Europe is up to the challenge, otherwise we must absolutely abandon the European dream, and say that everyone should fend for themselves,” said Conte.

“[Italy] will employ triple, quadruple, quintuple of the resources to get out of this crisis, and there is no guarantee that we will do it in the best, most effective and timely way,” he added.

Conte argues that since Italians are European citizens, they deserve an appropriate response from Europe, or else Italy will be forced to restart with its own resources, and its national response is likely to jeopardize “the European dream.”

“Nobody has an advantage if Europe cannot set up a concrete and solid reaction,” said Conte. “This is not about Italy. We have never experienced an emergency situation of this type.”

“They are European citizens who expect a European solution,” he said of Italians.

Recent polling reveals that overall confidence in European institutions has collapsed. Trust in the EU has fallen from 42 percent last September to 27 percent now. Trust in the EU Commission has dropped from 41 percent to 24 percent, and trust in the European Central Bank from 43 percent to 25 percent.

In a recent interview with BBC, Conte told reporters that European leaders are “facing an appointment with history” that they cannot miss.

“If we do not seize the opportunity to put new life into the European project, the risk of failure is real,” said the Italian prime minister of the EU.

Conte also compared Italy’s experience with the virus to “coping with the situation in the dark.”

The report added that latest forecasts suggest the Chinese virus will lead Italy’s economy to contract by more than 11 percent, and national debt to rise to unsustainable levels.

The prime minister referred to the situation as an “economic and social emergency” that is testing the financial structure of every country.

As of Thursday, a total of 18,279 people have died in Italy from the Wuhan coronavirus.

“I feel the pain of the gaping wound that this nation is experiencing,” said Conte. “Behind the numbers are names and surnames, life stories, and broken families. The Italian nation is suffering.”

You can follow Alana Mastrangelo on Twitter at @ARmastrangelo, and on Instagram.

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