Italy criticizes EU for slowness in combating coronavirus epidemic

The Italian government has accused the EU and its member states of being slow in coming to the country’s aid over the coronavirus epidemic.

As leaders held a summit by videoconference and agreed that up to 70% of Europeans could be infected by Covid-19, Italy’s ambassador to the EU complained of a lack of solidarity among member states.

Maurizio Massari said Brussels needed to “go beyond engagement and consultations” and devise “emergency actions that are quick, concrete and effective”.

A flashpoint has been the failure of member states to respond to a call by Italy for extra supplies of medical equipment, including masks.

Germany and France are among the EU countries to have imposed limits on the export of protective medical equipment, while China has offered to sell Italy 1,000 lung ventilators, 2m masks, 20,000 protective suits and 50,000 swabs for coronavirus tests.

“We must ensure, under EU coordination, the supply of the necessary medical equipment and its redistribution among those countries and regions most in need,” Massari wrote on Politico’s website. “Today, this means Italy; tomorrow, the need could be elsewhere. Italy has already asked to activate the European Union mechanism of civil protection for the supply of medical equipment for individual protection. But unfortunately not a single EU country responded to the commission’s call. Only China responded bilaterally. Certainly this is not a good sign of European solidarity.”

During a two-and-a-half-hour “e-summit” on Monday evening, EU leaders vowed to increase coordination and release funds of up to €25bn (£22bn).

The commission will make €7.5bn available, which could trigger co-funding by national governments of €17.5- €18bn.

The EU will also be flexible in the implementation of its rules on state aid to allow governments to subsidise industry where required.

The European council’s president, Charles Michel, said member states had agreed they would “stand ready to make use of all instruments that are necessary” in order to tackle four priorities: limiting the spread of the virus, ensuring supplies of medical equipment, promoting research on vaccines and treatment, and handling the economic fallout.

He said the European commission would purchase personal protective equipment to supply to member states.