German Chancellor Angela Merkel says the coronavirus pandemic is the “biggest test” that the European Union has faced since its foundation, adding that it is important that the bloc “emerges strong” from the economic crisis caused by the disease.
“In my view… the European Union stands before the biggest test since its founding,” Merkel told reporters during a news conference on Monday.
“Everyone is just as affected as the other, and therefore, it is in everyone’s interest, and it is in Germany’s interest for Europe to emerge strong from this test.”
The comments came ahead of a key eurozone finance ministers’ conference aimed at drawing up an economic rescue plan for the bloc.
Merkel also stressed that Germany is “ready to contribute” to boosting the bloc. She also reiterated that the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) bailout fund should be activated “with no senseless conditions” in order to help countries that have been hit hard by the coronavirus.
The German chancellor further said that Europe needed to develop “self-sufficiency” in manufacturing of crucial medical gear such as masks.
“Regardless of the fact that this market is presently installed in Asia… we need a certain self-sufficiency, or at least a pillar of our own manufacturing” in Germany or elsewhere in the European Union, she said.
The novel coronavirus, known as COVID-19, initially emerged in China late last year and is now spreading across the globe.
The global death toll from the coronavirus pandemic has now reached 70,567, and 1,288,319 people are diagnosed with the viral infection around the globe.
Analysts say the world economy is headed for a sharp downturn, where several countries could plunge into recession this year.
France is facing its deepest recession since the end of World War II because of the widespread lockdown to stem the coronavirus crisis, Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire warns.
“The worst growth figure in France since 1945 was -2.2 percent in 2009, after the financial crisis of 2008. We will probably be very far beyond -2.2 percent” this year, Le Maire told a Senate panel on Monday.
That figure was subsequently revised to a drop of 2.9 percent, and France is likely to do even worse than that, the finance ministry clarified to AFP.
It’s an indication of the amplitude of the economic shock we’re facing,” Le Maire said.
France imposed a nationwide stay-at-home order from March 17 after shuttering all nonessential businesses. Officials have said the lockdown will last until at least April 15.
Statistics office Insee said last month that the lockdown has slashed overall economic activity by 35 percent, and estimated that every month of shutdown would cut annual GPD by three percentage points.
Services, heavy industry and construction are all taking big hits, Insee said, as factories are shut and only a handful of business sectors, such as supermarkets and pharmacies, remain open.
A wave of French blue-chip companies have abandoned their profitability targets for the year, while employers’ associations have warned that hundreds of smaller firms and shops risk bankruptcy.
The government has pledged 45 billion euros ($49 billion) in loan guarantees and other relief to help companies get through the crisis.