Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte warned Saturday that the European Union could lose its purpose if it fails to come up with a strong response to the coronavirus threat.
Conte aired his grievances after the 27 EU leaders could not agree on an action plan during an argumentative six-hour video conference Thursday and gave their finance ministers two more weeks to forge a policy that could please Italy and Spain.
The two countries hardest-hit by the pandemic blocked Thursday’s statement because it did not go far enough.
The crux of the argument is about the extent to which the EU — facing what Italy views as an existential threat — should abandon its policy of keeping within tight budget constraints.
The bloc has already untied its purse strings in ways not seen since the 2008-2009 global financial crisis.
Conte says that this is not enough.
Rome and Madrid want the EU to start issuing “corona bonds” — a form of common debt that governments sell on markets to raise money and address individual economic needs.
More spendthrift nations such as Germany and the Netherlands are balking at the idea of joint debt.
Conte said he and German Chancellor Angela Merkel had “not just a disagreement but a hard a frank confrontation” Thursday about how to proceed.
“If Europe does not rise to this unprecedented challenge, the whole European structure loses its raison d’etre (reason for existing) to the people,” Conte told Saturday’s edition of the Il Sole 24 Ore financial newspaper.