EU chief issues 'heartfelt' apology to Italy for delay in coronavirus help

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen says 'no one was ready' for the outbreak

The President of European Commission Ursula Von der Leyen keeps distance as she talks with an European Deputy before a mini plenary session of European Parliament in Brussels, on April 16, 2020 amid the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, caused by the novel coronavirus.  Due to the coronavirus pandemic, plenary session is reduced to one day and mainly operated as a video conference. / AFP / JOHN THYS
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The president of the European Commission has issued a "heartfelt" apology to Italy for the delay in providing aid to help it tackle the coronavirus outbreak.

In a speech to the European Parliament, Ursula von der Leyen said Europe was not prepared for the outbreak, which resulted in more than 21,000 deaths in Italy, the hardest-hit country.

"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," she said.
"And yes, for that, it is right that Europe as a whole offers a heartfelt apology."

Italy has complained that other EU member states have been slow to help.

In early March it had asked for supplies of protective equipment but it took a week for the first offer of EU help to come.

Instead, China, Russia and Cuba came to Italy’s aid.

Mrs Von der Leyen said the EU had now shown its "solidarity".

"Saying sorry only counts for something if it changes behaviour," she said.
"The truth is that it did not take long before everyone realised that we must protect each other to protect ourselves. And the truth is too that Europe has now become the world's beating heart of solidarity.

"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 and where patients from Bergamo are flown to clinics in Bonn."

She told parliament that the EU budget will be the "mothership" of Europe's recovery from the outbreak.

"There is only one instrument we have that is trusted by all Member States, which is already in place and can deliver quickly," she said.

"It is transparent and it is time-tested as an instrument for cohesion, convergence and investment and that instrument is the European budget.
"The European budget will be the mothership of the recovery."