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Greek PM Mitsotakis Says EU Not Doing Enough to Stem COVID-19

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Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis participates on The video conference of EU heads of state and government. (Photo by Eurokinissi/ Dimitris Papamitsos)

ATHENS – The European Union's notoriously slow bureaucracy is holding back relief for the COVID-19 Coronavirus, Greek Prime Minister and New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis said as he asked for measures to be stepped up.

After some countries reacted swiftly with quarantines and lockdowns to help slow the spread of the dreaded illness, EU leaders have been taking their time trying to decide what to do, a common problem for the bloc.

Mitsotakis said the current scheme to help hard-hit economies, with non-essential businesses ordered shut, aren't sufficient and called for a proposal to issue joint debt to help finance a recovery, government sources not named told Kathimerini.

He told other EU leaders of his concerns during a six-hour videoconference of the 27 countries that failed to produce an agreement even as cases and deaths mounted, with the bloc's complicated governance holding back more measures.

He told his colleagues there was a discrepancy between the terms used to describe this crisis - “epic”, “unprecedented,” etc. - and the measures taken so far and called for alternative solutions to be explored showing his frustration between what the EU does and says.

He said the nine countries that support the proposal for a so-called “corona bond” represent 57 percent of the Eurozone’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP. )

EU leaders said they need at least two more weeks to figure out what to do even though the number of cases and deaths rise daily, and said they wanted their countries finance ministers now to put their heads together.

Germany and The Netherlands blocked a call from Italy, Spain and France to issue joint debt to help finance a recovery, the paper said.

“Some member states ... suggested those corona bonds,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said after the discussion ended. “We said that this is not the point of view of all member states. And that’s why the ESM is the preferred instrument for me,” referring to the European Stability Mechanism.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said the ESM would be the “last resort,” and that his country won't support any joint debt scheme.

The ESM said the standby credit to Eurozone governments could be available for up to two years and would have to be repaid within an average period of five to 10 years even as economies are set to shrink and, in Greece's case, go back into a recession.

Italy, the European country that suffered the most, wants virtually unlimited support for its ravaged economy. “We need to react with innovative financial instruments,” Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte’s office said in a statement.

European Council President Charles Michel, who chaired the summit, has called for a new “Marshall Plan” - named after the U.S. aid package that kick-started Western Europe’s recovery after World War Two but squabbling continues.

“We cannot repeat the mistakes of the 2008 financial crisis, which sowed the seeds of disaffection and division with the European project and provoked the rise of populism. We need to learn this lesson,” said Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez.