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‘Big mistake’: Italy blasts European Commission chief, says Europe needs ‘great Marshall Plan’ to battle pandemic crisis

“The commission president’s words were a mistake and I regret that she made them,” Italian Economy Minister Roberto Gualtieri told reporters at a news conference on Saturday, stressing that Europe needs “a great Marshall Plan” to keep its economy afloat.

The historic Marshall Plan was a massive US-led economic aid package to rebuild Western Europe after the devastation of WWII. Italy proposed that Brussels issue so-called ‘corona bonds,’ a common debt instrument aimed at funding the response to the Covid-19 pandemic, which has made a significant dent in Europe’s economies by forcing businesses to shut down due to quarantine measures.

In an interview with DPA, von der Leyen did not rule out the idea of ‘corona bonds’ but said that they were “not the plan” the EU was working on. “The word corona bond is actually just a buzzword,” she said. The option was similarly dismissed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who said that creating ‘corona bonds’ was “not… the view of all EU countries.”

Von der Leyen’s words raised some eyebrows not only in Rome but inside the European Parliament, whose leader David Sassoli immediately asked the European Commission chief to clarify her stance.

Italy has been hit hardest by the coronavirus within the EU, with nearly 92,500 confirmed cases and over 10,000 deaths. On Saturday, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte unveiled a €4.3 billion ($4.79 billion) stimulus package to help local authorities and regular citizens survive through the pandemic.

The European Central Bank (ECB), in turn, pledged to spend €750 billion ($836.2 billion) in bond purchases. However, officials in Italy and Spain, which is the second-hardest hit EU nation, insisted that a more common approach is needed.

“This is a crisis that is affecting all of the EU. We need to articulate a grand Marshall Plan of reconstruction,” Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said last week, after the ECB plan was released.

Header: Coffins that have been piling up in a church due to a high number of deaths as Italy struggles to contain the spread of coronavirus disease in Seriate. © Reuters / Flavio Lo Scalzo