Brussels, Apr 16 (efe-epa).- The European Commission’s president, Ursula von der Leyen, on Thursday apologized to Italy on behalf of the European Union for not reacting quickly enough when Rome alerted the bloc to its unfolding coronavirus emergency.
“Yes, it is true that no one was really ready for this,” she told the European Parliament in Brussels.
“It is also true that too many were not there on time when Italy needed a helping hand at the very beginning. And yes, for that, it is right that Europe as a whole offers a heartfelt apology.”
“But saying sorry only counts for something if it changes behaviour,” she said.
Italy’s foreign minister, Luigi di Maio, welcomed her words.
“EU Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen, today apologized to Italy, admitting that many countries at the beginning of the pandemic were not present when we needed help. His words are an important act of truth, which is good for Europe and for our community,” he said on Facebook.
The German politician said she was proud that Europe had become the “world’s beating heart of solidarity.”
“One where paramedics from Poland and doctors from Romania save lives in Italy. Where ventilators from Germany provide a lifeline in Spain. Where hospitals in Czechia treat the sick from France. And where patients from Bergamo are flown to clinics in Bonn.”
Shifting to the economic consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic, Von der Leyen said Europe had taken more measures in the last four weeks than in the first four years after the “last crisis.”
“We have made our state aid rules more flexible than ever. In the last few days alone, we have approved schemes that will provide 1 billion euro to Croatian businesses, 1.2 billion for Greek SMEs or 20 million to Portuguese fishermen. There are many more examples I could pick, from Latvia and Estonia to Belgium or Sweden,” she said.
She reiterated calls for a Marshall Plan in Europe to stimulate the economy once the crisis passes.
The president of the European Parliament, David Sassoli, opened the atypical plenary session — the majority of MEPs were following proceedings from home — by thanking the essential workers.
“It is especially important to keep our democracies alive and listen to the people during this period. We need to be ambitious because our people need a rapid response,” the Italian said.
MEPs are due to vote on several proposals on redirecting EU funds to help countries deal with the pandemic as well as urging the Commission and the Council to issue bonds to shore up economic recovery.EFE-EPA