Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte called Friday (20 March) for the European Union to tap the “full firepower” of its rescue fund to combat the coronavirus outbreak.
In an interview with the Financial Times, Conte urged the EU to adapt its European Stability Mechanism (ESM) — the war chest for eurozone countries with serious debt problems — to fight the COVID-19 pandemic in the bloc.
“The ESM was crafted with a different type of crisis in mind, so it must be adapted to the new circumstances so that we can make use of its full firepower,” Conte told the FT.
“The route to follow is to open ESM credit lines to all member states to help them fight the consequences of the COVID-19 epidemic, under the condition of full accountability by each member state on the way resources are spent.”
The Italian premier had Thursday welcomed the European Central Bank’s massive 750-billion-euro bond buying stimulus package designed to help virus-wracked economies.
The ECB’s emergency $820-billion scheme will pump cash into the economy by buying additional government and corporate bonds until a least the end of the year.
Italy on Thursday overtook China’s coronavirus death total and braced for an extended lockdown that could see the economy suffer its biggest shock since World War II.
The Mediterranean country’s toll reached 3,405 after it recorded 427 new deaths on Wednesday.
“We are confronted with an exogenous, global shock that has no precedents in modern history,” Conte added.
“And as political leaders we are called to make necessary, bold, yet tragic choices.”
French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said separately Friday that the EU must stand by Italy otherwise all member states would suffer.
It could not be a case of “everyone for themselves,” it had to be all working together to get through the crisis, Le Maire added.
Italy shut down most businesses on 11 March to fight the deadly outbreak.