The EU should be more "ambitious, united and courageous" in the face of the new coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, said Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte.
"We are called upon to make a qualitative leap that would allow us to call ourselves a political and social union, and not just an economic one," Conte wrote in a column in Italian newspaper La Repubblica. The column is a response to an op-ed by Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in the same newspaper.
"Today Europe is mobilising alongside Italy. But this has not always been the case," von der Leyen wrote on Thursday. "It must be recognised that at the beginning of the crisis, when faced with the need for a common European response, far too many thought only of their national problems," she added.
"We have done everything possible to bring the European countries to reason as a team and ensure a coordinated response to a common problem. And we have seen more solidarity here in Europe than anywhere else in the world," she wrote.
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"Italians are demonstrating their solidarity with each other in everyday life with thousands of small gestures - both discreet and heroic at the same time. And only solidarity can make us emerge from this crisis - the one between people like the one between states," von der Leyen said.
"Your words are proof that the determination of the Italians has shaken the consciences of all, beyond national boundaries, by raising today the most pressing question: what is Europe willing to do, not for Italy, but for herself," Conte responded. "European solidarity, as you yourself mentioned, was not felt in the first days of this crisis and now there is no more time to lose."
"In the face of a storm like Covid-19, which concerns us all, there is no need for a life jacket for Italy but a strong European lifeboat that would take our united countries to safety", Conte said.
Italy is currently the country in Europe hit hardest by coronavirus, with 110,574 confirmed cases and 13,157 deaths as of 2 April, according to the WHO.
The Brussels Times