European Council President Charles Michel lavished praise on Italy for its handling of the coronavirus pandemic on Saturday, declaring in an address to Italian leaders that the country is “leading the way” for the rest of Europe.
In a speech via video to the gathering of the “Stati Generali dell’economia,” convened by Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte to explore ways to revive Italy’s troubled economy, Michel said: “Above all it was the Italian citizens who set an example to other Europeans with the discipline, endurance and courage which has enabled them to gradually stop the spread of the epidemic.”
The European Union has come under harsh criticism in Italy, the first European country to bear the brunt of the pandemic, for its slow initial response to the outbreak. The backlash fueled anti-EU sentiment in Italy, bolstering populist forces in the country.
Von der Leyen and European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde also participated in the video gathering.
Michel, echoing similar recent comments by Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and other EU leaders, acknowledged Europe’s mistakes, while insisting Italy hadn’t suffered in vain.
“The tragedy in Italy, and subsequently also in Spain, raised awareness and pushed the rest of Europe to take drastic measures more quickly,” Michel said, adding that “Italy’s sacrifice probably indirectly saved lives in the rest of Europe.”
The country is expected to be one of the chief beneficiaries of the economic aid measures currently under discussion among EU leaders. The Commission has tabled a proposal for a €750 billion recovery fund financed through debt, but the details of how the money would be distributed have yet to be clarified.
Michel stressed that no one should underestimate the challenge toward reaching a deal among all 27 EU members.
“It is important for us all to be aware that the road ahead is still long and strewn with pitfalls,” he said.