Italian PM Conte demands more financial aid from Europe as shutdown continues

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte on Friday called for the EU to show "more ambition, more unity and more courage" as he continued to push for more financial help in dealing with the coronavirus crisis.

Italian PM Conte demands more financial aid from Europe as shutdown continues
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte addressing Parliament in Rome. Phoo: Ansa/AFP

He continued a war of words with EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen via the pages of an Italian newspaper on Friday.

“Dear Ursula,” he wrote in a letter to La Repubblica, “I hear ideas (from you) not worthy of Europe. The decisions we make today will be remembered for years.”

READ ALSO: Coronavirus: The financial help available in Italy and how to claim it


His words were in response to a letter from von der Leyen in the same paper on Thursday, where she had promised more support for Italy.

Conte wants the whole bloc to share the financial burden of fighting the outbreak by issuing billions of euros in so-called “coronabonds”, helping Italy to borrow more cheaply to fight the pandemic that has killed nearly 14,000 people and shattered the country's economy.

Von der Leyen has sided with Germany and some other northern European countries, who argue that pooled risk could raise their borrowing costs.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. Photo: AFP

She prefers an EU-wide guarantee that could raise 100 billion euros ($108 billion) for the specific purpose of helping national unemployment schemes.

Conte said he “welcomed” the EU's initiative but 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 reconstruction,” Conte wrote.

This required “innovative tools such as the European Recovery Bonds”.

He said the bonds were “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”.


'Nothing ruled out'

EU leaders failed to find a common response last week and gave their finance ministers until next Thursday to agree on something useful.

Von der Leyen's Latvian deputy Valdis Dombrovskis told La Repubblica newspaper Friday that nothing was being ruled out.

“We are open to every option,” Dombrovskis wrote. “We need an ambitious, coordinated and effective response.”

Italy's toll from the new disease reached 13,915 on Thursday, more than any other country.

Its current lockdown to stop the spread has been extended through mid-April, and at least some measures are expected to continue beyond that.

With most businesses shut down, Italy's economy is expected to suffer its biggest shock since World War II.

While the nationwide lockdown measures imposed on March 12th seem to be helping to contain the outbreak, this has also caused serious economic problems for a country where poverty was already rife.

Millions of people in Italy are now thought to be out of work, with many left without the money for food and essentials.
Civil protection service chief Angelo Borrelli told RAI television Friday that Italians would probably “have to stay at home for many more weeks”.

Conte is preparing a new economic response package after pledging 25 billion euros in assistance to affected families and businesses last month.

His proposals reportedly include guaranteed loans that could theoretically deliver up to 500 billion euros to struggling companies and households.

This would expand the 340 billion euros in guarantees announced last month.


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Italy’s Meloni in Libya to discuss energy and migration

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni arrived on Saturday in the Libyan capital Tripoli for talks on energy as well as the thorny issue of migration, Libyan state media said.

Italy's Meloni in Libya to discuss energy and migration

Meloni’s trip – her second to a North African country this week – is the first by a European leader to war-battered Libya since her predecessor Mario Draghi’s visit in April 2021.

State television said the Italian premier was received by Abdelhamid Dbeibah, who heads the Tripoli-based, UN brokered Government of National Unity which is contested by a rival administration in the east.

Libya and its former colonial power Italy are key trade partners, particularly in energy, where Italian giant Eni plays a major role in tapping into Africa’s largest known oil reserves.

Meloni was accompanied by Eni chief Claudio Descalzi, who is expected to sign a deal with Libya’s National Oil Company to develop two Libyan offshore gas fields.

Eni will invest $8 million in the two fields, NOC chief Farhat Bengdara said in televised remarks this week, adding they are expected to produce 850 million cubic metres of gas.

Meloni visited Algeria on Monday seeking supply deals from Africa’s top gas exporter to help reduce reliance on Russia after it invaded Ukraine last year.

During her trip to Libya, she is also expected to discuss the issue of migration amid rising numbers of irregular migrants from Libya to Italy.

Libya has been wracked by years of conflict and division since a NATO-backed revolt toppled dictator Moamer Kadhafi in 2011.

The country is a conduit for thousands of people each year fleeing conflict and poverty across Africa, seeking refuge across the Mediterranean in Europe.

Meloni’s far-right government took office in October, vowing to stop migrant landings in Italy, which reached more than 105,000 in 2022.

The central Mediterranean route is considered the world’s most treacherous, according to the International Organization for Migration, which estimated that 1,377 migrants had disappeared on that route last year.