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Italian PM tells EU to ‘show more ambition, unity, courage’

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This photo of a television screen taken and handout by the press office of Palazzo Chigi on March 26, 2020 shows Italian Prime Minister, Giuseppe Conte speaking while taking part in a video conference as part of an extraordinary meeting of G20 leaders, from the Chigi Palace in Rome, during the country’s lockdown following the COVID-19 new coronavirus pandemic. – Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte is blocking a joint response that EU leaders are trying to put together to the coronavirus crisis, an Italian government source said on March 26. (Photo by Handout / Palazzo Chigi press office / AFP) / 

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte on Friday extended his feud about coronavirus money with EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen in the pages of a Roman newspaper.

Conte wrote a letter to Italy’s La Repubblica in response to an apology that von der Leyen had published in the same paper on Thursday.

“I am sorry,” von der Leyen had told Italians. “The EU is with you now.”

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Conte sounded unimpressed in his letter.

“Dear Ursula,” he wrote. “I hear ideas (from you) not worthy of Europe.”

He told her it was time for the EU “to show more ambition, more unity and more courage”.

At issue is billions of euros that Italy wants from the European Union to help fight the novel coronavirus pandemic that has killed nearly 14,000 people in Italy and shattered the country’s economy.

Conte wants the EU to start issuing lots of joint debt — dubbed “coronabonds” — that could let countries such as Italy address the crisis more cheaply.

Von der Leyen has sided with Germany and some other northern European countries’ suspicion of pooled risk because it could raise their own borrowing costs at the expense of more indebted countries.

Von der Leyen is backing an EU-wide guarantee that could raise 100 billion euros ($108 billion) to aid strained national unemployment schemes.

She told Italians said these EU-backed loans were “demonstrating European solidarity”.

Conte said he “welcomed” the EU’s unemployment initiative.

But the Italian leader also made it clear that he still wanted the coronabonds.

“When fighting a war, you must do everything possible to win and equip yourself with all the tools needed for the (subsequent) reconstruction,” he wrote.

Conte said this required “innovative tools such as the European Recovery Bonds.”

He said these bonds are “useful to finance the extraordinary efforts that Europe will have to put in place” and “are in no way aimed at sharing the debt that each of our countries has inherited from the past”.

EU leaders failed to find a common response last week and gave finance ministers until next Thursday to draft a new strategy.

Italy’s world-leading toll from the new disease reached 13,915 on Thursday.

Its three-week lockdown to stop the spread has been extended through at least mid-April and its economy is expected to suffer its biggest peacetime shock since World War II.

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