Eurogroup chief: EU living ‘war-like’ conditions, long struggle lies ahead

Instructions reading 'That's how we protect ourselves' on the fence at the Rudolf Harbig Stadion, stadium of German second Bundesliga side Dynamo Dresden in Dresden, Germany, 16 March 2020. [Filip Singer/EPA/EFE]

Eurogroup chief Mario Centeno warned on Monday (16 March) that under the coronavirus outbreak the European economy is experiencing the equivalent of a war, and that a long struggle lies ahead.

“We know the virus hasn’t reached its peak. We must not kid ourselves,” Mario Centeno said ahead of a eurozone finance ministers video conference.

“These are the first steps in a temporary, but long fight. Forced containment is bringing our economies to war-like times,” said Centeno, who is also Portuguese finance minister.

The ministers — exceptionally joined by colleagues from outside the single-currency euro bloc — are expected to sign off on a raft of proposals by the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, including waiving rules on public overspending.

This will be especially important for heavily indebted Italy, the hardest-hit country in Europe by the coronavirus outbreak.

“We will make sure that EU fiscal rules or state aid rules will not stand in the way of supporting our economies. Flexibility is there and will be used,” he said.

Measures could also include some emergency cash for small companies, as well as pledges to better coordinate national policies among the member states.

However, the ministers are not expected to for now discuss a bailout of the European economy or any other Europe-wide rescue.

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