Slow EU response to Italian crisis draws criticism as death toll continues to rise

The true scale of the death toll due to the coronavirus in Northern Italy may never be known but it has already far out-stripped the capacity of the regional authorities to be able to respond to the crisis.

In the city of Bergamo, the local mayor Giorgio Gori has said that “many of the elderly are dying in their houses or in old people’s homes, without anyone testing them either before or after they die.”

Across Europe, there has been an outpouring of solidarity with Italy from citizens, cities and community groups.

One residents group, themselves in lock down in the city of Bamberg in Germany, organised a rendition of Bella Ciao, the Italian resistance song, in a YouTube video which has itself “gone viral” on the internet.

Despite repeated calls from Italian politicians at national, European and regional level, support from the EU institutions and EU member states has been slow to materialise.

When Italy asked for extra supplies of medical equipment including face masks at the start of the crisis, no supplies were forthcoming.

In response to the initial failure to help Italy, the Italian Ambassador to the EU, Maurizio Massari, said that “Brussels needed to go beyond engagement and consultations and devise actions that are quick, concrete and effective”.

Roger Casale, founder of the civil rights group New Europeans, said:

“European citizens have been showing solidarity towards Italy, but the European institutions and EU member states have been very slow to do so. We can see that when it comes to healthcare coordination, 'Europe' doesn’t really exist.”

Elly Schlein, Vice-President of the Region of Emilia Romagna which has also been hit hard by the crisis said:“Either the EU rediscovers the principle of solidarity on which it was founded, or it will not succeed. That is true about the health crisis we are experiencing. It is also true of the economic crisis and social crisis and also of the terrifying situation in the Moira refugee camp.”

In a letter to the President of the Italian Republic, Sergio Mattarella, EU Council President Charles Michel said,“No country can do it alone in this crisis. No country should do it alone. We must help and support each other.”

Casale, who lives in Italy, said, “The problem is that the EU is still doing far too little to help Italy and has started much too late. Article 168 of the Lisbon Treaty explicitly states that there should be co-operation between health care systems and support from the centre in cases of need.

"When the crisis is over, the European Commission and the European Council will have a lot of explaining to do.

"But in the meantime, the priority must be to save lives in Italy and across Europe by all means possible.”

Meanwhile on a more hopeful note, Federica Mogherini, the former High Representative and Vice-President of the European Commission called on all those showing solidarity and friendship with Italy “to visit our beautiful member state” when the crisis is over.

With the death rate in Italy rising exponentially, that day may be some way off.

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Martin Banks

Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a highly qualified journalist with many years experience of working within the EU institutions. He is an occasional, and highly valued, contributor to EU today, writing on a wide variety of issues.

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