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EU Commission President offers 'heartfelt apology' to Italy, as MEPs debate coronavirus response

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European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen   -   Copyright  John Thys/Pool via AP
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Ursula von der Leyen extended a 'heartfelt apology' to Italy on behalf of Europe, admitting that it had not been by its side since the beginning of the crisis.

The Commission President was speaking at a debate in the European Parliament on Thursday saying that "too many were not there on time when Italy needed a helping hand at the very beginning."

However, she went on to claim that “Europe has now become the world’s beating heart of solidarity”, pointing to joint efforts made by EU institutions and member states to distribute medical equipment, offer hospital beds as well as getting agreements on financing the recovery.

Crisis budget

Politicians across the political spectrum called for massive investment to overcome the economic fallout.

An ambitious EU budget for 2021-2027 is one of the tools; so the President of the European Council Charles Michel promised to push for a deal during the EU summit, on April 23.

The European Parliament is insisting that EU countries reconsider 'corona bonds' which have been re-labelled 'recovery bonds'.

"It is the moment to renovate our economy so that it will respect more the environment and the natural resources, as well as to make it more digital.To mutualise part of the debt of our countries, as we are proposing, with the issuing of the recovery bonds," said the head of the Socialist group Iratxe Garcia (MEP, Spain).

MEPs will vote on a €3 billion support package for the health sector and other financial measures to maintain food aid to vulnerable citizens and to mitigate losses in fisheries/aquaculture.

Democracy under threat

Besides the economic struggle; some group leaders also warned about the crescent wave of authoritarianism due to the emergency laws.

"The fear, the dissimulation and the withdrawal are not antidotes but poisons. Under no excuse, the democratic values and our individual freedoms must not be questioned. Everyone should understand this; including Viktor Orban," said the head of the liberal grouping RENEW, Dacian Ciolos (MEP, Romania).

The last set of votes using an online system will be on Friday.

It was the second special European Parliament plenary session on lockdown, with social distancing meaning a limited number of politicians could physically be present for the debate on how to deal with the coronavirus pandemic. Remaining MEPs were following events online, as the virtual chamber has its second run in order to keep EU measures on track.