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EU leaders to discuss return to normality after coronavirus crisis

EU leaders are to start laying the groundwork for Europe's return to normality once the peak of the coronavirus crisis has passed, during a videoconference on Thursday that will also focus on the immediate challenges of the outbreak.

Brussels, 26 March 2020 (dpa/MIA) – EU leaders are to start laying the groundwork for Europe’s return to normality once the peak of the coronavirus crisis has passed, during a videoconference on Thursday that will also focus on the immediate challenges of the outbreak.

Covid-19, the potentially deadly disease caused by the new coronavirus sweeping the world, has brought social and economic life to its knees across the European Union. Nationally imposed measures – such as border restrictions – have also challenged the bloc’s unity.

“While the urgency is presently on fighting the coronavirus pandemic and its immediate consequences, we should start to prepare the measures necessary to get back to a normal functioning of our societies and to sustainable growth,” EU leaders will say, according to a draft text seen by dpa.

The economic impact of the outbreak particularly worrying, with the European Commission warning that it could trigger a slump comparable to the worst year of the eurozone crisis, in 2009.

The commission and the European Central Bank have introduced a series of measures to soften the blow, and member states have taken far-reaching national fiscal steps, but many are calling on the eurozone to do more to bolster the 19-member currency area.

Nine member states, including worst-hit Italy, penned a letter on Wednesday to European Council President Charles Michel, calling for “further action to buttress our economies today.”

Specifically, they are demanding a “common debt instrument” to raise funds on the market for all on equal terms – an idea commonly referred to as coronabonds.

“The case for such a common instrument is strong, since we are all facing a symmetric external shock, for which no country bears responsibility, but whose negative consequences are endured by all,” the letter says.

Besides Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, it is signed by the leaders of Belgium, France, Greece, Ireland, Luxembourg, Portugal, Slovenia and Spain.

The idea, debated by eurozone finance ministers on Tuesday, is unlikely to fly, however, given the time it would take to set up a new instrument and traditional reluctance from fiscal hawks such as Germany and the Netherlands.

The issue threatens to reopen old fault lines between north and south, reminiscent of the divisions laid bare by the eurozone crisis.

All ministers have, however, shown “broad support” for the activation of the eurozone bailout fund, according to Mario Centeno, the head of their Eurogroup panel.

The EU leaders’ videoconference, set to last around two hours, replaces a formal two-day meeting that was supposed to take place in Brussels this week.

In a glimmer of good news, EU leaders are expected to approve the long-awaited start of accession negotiations with membership hopefuls Albania and North Macedonia.

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