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Coronavirus: 'Distance between European nations puts everyone at risk' - von der Leyen calls for EU solidarity


European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen (AP Photo/Olivier Matthys)

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen (AP Photo/Olivier Matthys)

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen (AP Photo/Olivier Matthys)

European Commission head Ursula von der Leyen has called for more solidarity at the EU level to fight the coronavirus pandemic, in a letter to Italian daily newspaper, la Repubblica.

Ms von der Leyen added that the EU would allocate up to 100 billion euros ($110 billion) to the hardest hit countries, starting with Italy, to cover wage cuts and to help preserve jobs, she added.

The EU executive proposed the wage-subsidy scheme on Wednesday, but did not give financial details.

Ms Von der Leyen said too many countries had focused on their own problems in the initial days of the coronavirus emergency, which "was harmful and could have been avoided".

She added the European Commission had also proposed that "every euro still available in the EU's annual budget" be spent on tackling the coronavirus crisis.

"Only solidarity will allow us to emerge from this crisis," she said. "The distance between European nations ... puts everyone at risk".

Italy, the epicentre of the coronavirus emergency in Europe, was the first Western country to introduce sweeping bans on movement and economic activity, having first confirmed the presence of coronavirus almost six weeks ago.

Since Feb. 23, when Rome imposed the first set of measures to contain the outbreak, Milan's blue chip index has fallen more than 30% and the lockdown, which will be extended until at least April 13, has brought the economy on its knees.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said Rome would not nationalise businesses during the coronavirus crisis on Thursday as the European Commission's head promised affected countries up to 100 billion euros ($110 billion), starting with Italy.

Conte's pledge in an interview with Il Fatto Quotidiano newspaper reflects concerns in his ruling coalition government that investors could try to take advantage of collapsing share prices to snap up assets such as banks or insurers.

Rome has the option of using "golden powers" which give the government the right to veto stake building in strategic industries and Conte reiterated he would use such instruments, which should also "be strengthened at the European level".

At the moment the golden powers apply to companies in the infrastructure, defence, energy and telecoms industries, but Rome is considering extending them to other sectors.

Conte said he felt "the wind was changing" and called on Germany and the Netherlands, which have so far blocked calls from Italy, Spain and France for joint debt to help finance a recovery, to "think with a European perspective".

Conte added that he would like a planned second emergency decree that will include additional measures to mitigate the impact of the health crisis on Italy's economy to be passed before the Easter holiday in mid-April.