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Irish PM Varadkar: EU response to coronavirus has been 'poor' so far

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By Shona Murray
Irish PM Varadkar: EU response to coronavirus has been 'poor' so far
Copyright  AP

Europe’s response to the coronavirus crisis has been “poor” and uncoordinated, and now is the time for “solidarity”, says Irish Prime Minister, Leo Varadkar.

“This is a symmetric recession – it's affecting everyone, if ever there was a time for Europe to have a coordinated common response based on solidarity it is now,” he told Euronews.

Ireland, alongside several eurozone countries including Italy, Spain, Portugal, France, has called for the creation of corona bonds - a form of joint risk and debt issuance among countries that use the Euro.

However, he admits debt mutualisation “is not something that all member states can accept” and says the eurozone’s bailout mechanism the ESM should be modernised and provide cheap money to member states.

The loans should have ‘few terms and conditions’, and ‘last many years’ to ensure member states have enough firepower to respond to the crisis, he says.

"I think it's possible", he says.

“To be frank, when this emergency started the level of coordination across the EU was poor.

"Member states did their own thing because very often they were responding to a pandemic that was happening at a different pace in different countries."

Eurozone finance ministers are meeting today, and have been tasked with finding a solution to the crisis that meets the high demands of hard-pressed countries like Italy and Spain, whose societies and economies are being devastated by COVID-19.

Other member states like the Netherlands, Austria and Germany, who are steadfastly against any sort of mutualised debt or risk, will also need to be convinced.

However, Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel agrees that a consensus response involving solidarity for hard-hit countries is vital if the EU is to survive.

The EU is "facing the greatest test since its foundation", she said.

All member countries are equally affected, she added. It is also in everyone's interest "that Europe emerges strongly from this test.”

Germany, too, would only be doing well "if Europe was doing well", Merkel stressed. The answer to the crisis must, therefore, be "more Europe", a stronger Europe and a "well-functioning Europe".

The EU is on the backfoot for stalling on finding agreement on how best to support member states.

A comment from the Dutch finance minister that countries like Italy should be investigated for not having enough reserve to fight the response has been seen as a low blow and has been rejected by several countries as lacking in decency and compassion.