Members of the European Parliament are meeting on Thursday to discuss greater protection for EU citizens in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In her opening remarks, European Commissioner Ursula von der Leyen repeated an apology to Italy on behalf of Europe for its failure to do more to help at the start of the pandemic. “It is true that no one was really ready for this. It is also true that too many were not there on time when Italy needed a helping hand at the very beginning,” von der Leyen said. “And it is right, that Europe apologizes wholeheartedly for this.”
She said that, after a bad start, the EU has shown it is capable of solidarity. “The truth is that it did not take long before everyone realized that we must protect each other to protect ourselves.”
“The real Europe is standing up, the one that is there for each other when it is needed the most…The one where paramedics from Poland and doctors from Romania save lives in Italy. Where ventilators from Germany provide a lifeline in Spain.”
After the disappointing start, Europe’s response was now the “most impressive in the world,” she said.
“Europe has done more in the last four weeks than it did in the first four years of the last crisis,” von der Leyen said, in reference to the debt crisis starting in 2009.
The 27-nation bloc is set reshape its next budget to concentrate on tackling the coronavirus and channel a larger portion of the spending into the first few years.
The German politician told EU lawmakers that the new 7-year budget, which comes into play from January, would be “the mother-ship of our recovery.”
“We will use the power of the whole European budget to leverage the huge amount of investment we need to rebuild the single market after corona. We will front-load it, so we can power that investment in those crucial first years of recovery.”
Talks on the budget have been blocked for almost a year. Some member states are unwilling to pay more to plug the roughly €75-billion ($81 billion) hole left by Britain’s exit from the EU.
Criticism of Poland and Hungary
At the extraordinary European Parliament session, lawmakers will vote on supporting member states’ health systems and a uniform strategy for the phasing out of emergency measures.
A resolution drafted ahead of the meeting criticized the behavior of EU members Hungary and Poland during the coronavirus crisis.
The parliament’s normal calendar of meetings is currently suspended amid the virus-related restrictions.