After apologising to Italy for not doing more to help it fight the coronavirus crisis, the European Union is now putting money where its mouth is.
Under the deal struck by EU leaders in the early hours of Tuesday, Italy, which became the global epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic in March, will receive the biggest slice of the bloc’s dedicated €750-billion coronavirus recovery package: €209 billion.
More than 35,000 Italians have died of COVID-19, and the nation’s economy, which relies heavily on tourism, is expected to plunge more than 11 per cent this year.
“We have the possibility to relaunch Italy with strength, to change the face of the country,” said Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte.
“Now we must hurry. We must use this money for investments, for structural reforms.”
Both of the ruling coalition’s parties, the Five Star movement and the Democratic Party, have praised Conte’s performance at the marathon EU talks.
The far-right League party leader Matteo Salvini, however, has criticised the deal, saying it would lead to more austerity measures for the country.
‘Business as usual’ for Greece
In Greece, whose economy already required a strict bailout in the past decade, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis called the recovery package a “national success.”
The country will receive around €72 billion as part of the deal, to help cushion the blow the pandemic has dealt to its vital tourism industry.
The Greek government now says the stimulus package is an opportunity for the country to diversify its economy and develop other sectors such as green energy and new technologies.
The nation is also unfazed by talk of conditions being set for the disbursement of EU funds.
For years, Greece has had to show international lenders that it was on track with structural reforms designed to modernize its economy and reduce its deficit, in order to receive its bailout funds.
As Euronews Athens correspondent Symela Touchtidou put it, if the EU stimulus package comes with a new surveillance mechanism, “it will be business as usual for the Greeks.”
Watch our correspondents’ reports from Rome and Athens in the video player above.