EU unmasked: Italy fury at bloc’s ‘humiliating’ coronavirus strategy exposed

Yesterday, the EU formally agreed to temporarily close its external borders to all “non-essential” travel, hoping to slow down the coronavirus spread in the continent. With immediate effect, the only things permitted to cross into the bloc will be goods and medical equipment. The measures will remain in place for 30 days and are expected to apply to 26 EU states as well as Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. UK citizens will not be affected.

The ban came as deaths continued to soar in Italy and Spain, and France started a strict lockdown.

Europe has been badly hit by the virus, which has killed 7,500 and infected 185,000 globally.

The EU will also set up an investment fund to respond to the outbreak, expecting to raise €25billion (£23billion).

The fund will target health systems, small and medium-sized enterprises, the labour market and other vulnerable segments of the EU economy.

In a recent interview with Italian magazine La Verita, though, former Italian Economy Minister Giulio Tremonti hit out at the bloc, claiming the measures about to be implemented are “humiliating” not just for national governments but for Europe itself.

Referring to the £25billion offered by Brussels, Mr Tremonti said: “The money is destined for the 27 EU member states.

“But the sum will come from the EU budget and therefore paid out of our own pockets.”

As for the concession to Italy to raise the deficit up to 3 percent, Mr Tremonti claimed it is a “joke”.

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He told the magazine it should not be seen as a “concession”, given that EU treaties are clear on the matter: “Budget deviations caused by exceptional events are possible.”

He added: “When you talk about EU flexibility right now, you end up highlighting the Stockholm syndrome of our relationship with Europe.

“A relationship which humiliates national governments as much as Europe itself.

“Brussels should have its historical and political basis in the logic of solidarity.

“Not on the rigidity of parameters manipulated in the interest of the banks.

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“This is exactly what happened in Greece.”

Mr Tremonti’s comments come a week after European Central Bank (ECB) chief Christine Lagarde said it was not the Frankfurt-based authority’s role to “close the spread” in sovereign debt markets – referring to the gap between Italian and German bond yields that is a key risk indicator for Italy.

Ms Lagarde also rebuffed suggestions that she hoped to emulate Mario Draghi, her Italian predecessor as ECB president, saying that she did not seek to be “whatever it takes, number two”.

The remarks stirred fears the ECB was retreating from being a lender of last resort to Italy just as concerns intensified about the economic impact of coronavirus.

Speaking to the ECB’s top decision-making body in a call on Friday, Ms Lagarde said she was sorry for comments that led to the biggest single-day fall in Italian government bonds in a decade, two people involved in the call told the Financial Times.

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