Speaking at a press conference at the European Commission on her first 100 days in the top job, Ursula von der Leyen claimed EU member states are demanding “more Europe” as Italy struggles with the outbreak of coronavirus and Greece with the sudden flux on migrants coming from Turkey. But she threatened EU leaders with a delayed response to such crises unless they come together and agree on the upcoming EU budget.
She said: “In these difficult times, we all sense that people in member states are asking for more Europe.
“Do more, act more, act more on borders, more on migration support, coronavirus, the micro-economic support.
“Yet without a new budget, we will not be able to respond appropriately.
“We are at the end of the current budget. The seven-year period is almost over.
“And if I look at the tasks ahead of us, we’re running short of the flexibility to act in crises as we see them right now.”
The European Commission President said ahead of talks with President Tayyip Erdogan that Turkey must move refugees and migrants away from the Greek border.
“Finding a solution to this situation will require relieving the pressure that is put on the border,” von der Leyen told a news conference on Monday.
She said ensuring the right to asylum, support for both Turkey and Greece, as well as moving people – especially minors – stranded on the Greek islands to mainland Europe were immediately needed too.
On the deadly coronavirus outbreak affecting the whole of Europe and particularly Italy, she claimed the European Union is looking at all possible options to help the economy cope with the virus outbreak.
She said: “We are looking into everything that we can do to help to address the impact on the economy.”
It comes as Italy ordered a virtual lockdown across much of its wealthy north on Sunday, including the financial capital Milan, in a drastic new attempt to try to contain a rapidly growing outbreak of coronavirus.
The unprecedented restrictions, which aim to limit gatherings and curb movement, will impact some 16 million people and stay in force until April 3. They were signed into law overnight by Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte.
The new measures say people should not enter or leave Lombardy, Italy’s richest region, as well as 14 provinces in four other regions, including the cities of Venice, Modena, Parma, Piacenza, Reggio Emilia and Rimini.
Conte said nobody would be allowed to move in or out of these areas, or within them, unless they had proven, work-related reasons for doing so, or health issues.
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Leave was cancelled for health workers.
“We are facing a national emergency. We chose from the beginning to take the line of truth and transparency and now we’re moving with lucidity and courage, with firmness and determination,” Mr Conte told reporters in the middle of the night.
“We have to limit the spread of the virus and prevent our hospitals from being overwhelmed,” he said.
Italy has been hit harder by the crisis than anywhere else in Europe so far, with the number of coronavirus cases jumping more than 1,200 in a 24-hour period – the biggest daily rise since the epidemic began in the country two weeks ago.
The latest total of cases at the time of writing stands at over 7,375 with 366 deaths.
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