"Original version published by Der Spiegel"
The Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio calls for more solidarity with Europe. The EU should focus on the trillion-dollar programmes of China and the US - and find an appropriate response.
SPIEGEL: Mr Minister, Italy has been particularly affected by the coronavirus crisis. Your government is now asking for the support of its partners in the European Union, including Germany. Is Europe experiencing an ordeal like that of the euro crisis?
Di Maio: The current situation is unprecedented. There are simply no historical comparisons for the enormous health but also economic consequences of the pandemic. Just looking back, we will not find a solution. It does not matter today how the Marshall Plan worked, what debt was forgiven to Germany after the war or what Greece had to face with the euro crisis.
Di Maio: What matters now is the future of the European people. We are facing a global challenge. Europe must measure itself against the United States and China. It is unimaginable that single European states can recover on their own.
SPIEGEL: Italy and other southern member states want to share the new debts with the European Community through loans guaranteed by the EU states, the so-called Coronabonds. Countries like Germany and the Netherlands are against it. They fear a bottomless pit.
Di Maio: Italy has always shown that it is honouring its debts. Moreover, last year we even reduced our deficit to 1.9% of gross domestic product - even though we had previously agreed on a margin of more than 2% with the EU Commission.
SPIEGEL: So why do we need the Coronabonds?
Di Maio: I am not interested in how we will call the instruments for tackling the crisis. We need to find the best instrument and react together to the worsening of the economic crisis. We need all the strength of the EU and European state guarantees to make Europe's future secure.
SPIEGEL: Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa called the attitude of the wealthier EU countries like the Netherlands "repugnant". Is he right?
Di Maio: What we need now is not verbal skirmishes, but unity. We are talking about the next 10, 15 years. We only experienced the euro crisis in 2010 - and now the defeat of the coronavirus. No other generation in Europe has suffered two such serious crises in such a short time. We can only cope with this with the utmost seriousness and strength.
SPIEGEL: What are the biggest problems in Italy now?
Di Maio: First, we must provide liquidity for our companies, that jobs remain guaranteed and salaries are paid. To that end, among other things, we look very much at the German model. Then we need to strengthen our health system in the coming years.
SPIEGEL: What is the current situation in the medical field?
Di Maio: We are relying on the strength of our doctors, nurses and health professionals. They work 24 hours a day to save the lives of patients affected by the virus. I take this opportunity to thank Germany for welcoming Italian patients. No one is to blame if we are dealing with a pandemic, and a death toll that reached 13,000. Italy is now expecting a common response to this tragedy, which affects everyone, because the situation is also difficult in Germany, France and Spain.
SPIEGEL: What has been done to alleviate the economic consequences of the pandemic?
Di Maio: In March alone we made available 25 billion euro in aid. If, as the International Monetary Fund calculated, we lose 5% of the gross domestic product in Europe for every month of lockdown, we will obviously have to invest much more.
SPIEGEL: How much?
Di Maio: It is crucial to bear in mind that the United States, as an economic competitor of the EU, is providing two trillion dollars, or 2,000 billion. China is also mobilizing enormous sums. The companies in those states may possibly also come out stronger from the crisis. In Europe, we must find an appropriate response.
SPIEGEL: In essence, you say: we need massive Coronabonds. Is that right?
Di Maio: We must reach the best possible agreement. I'm not saying it in favour of Italy but in favour of Europe. When one of us falls, we all fall. Europe is living its year zero. We win together or we lose together. Europe must act now, not react unprepared again.
SPIEGEL: According to surveys, 72% of Italians feel disappointed by the EU response to the pandemic.
Di Maio: These are only provisional data. Italians are European and feel they belong to the European people. I only hope that the EU is at the height of citizens' hopes and finds solutions to the crisis.
SPIEGEL: Your country is a net contributor to the EU. The president of the European Stability Mechanism, Klaus Regling, has already proposed to change this situation. Could it help?
Di Maio: Of course, we can talk about the next EU budget. Or the reforms of the European Union, which we can imagine. But these days we must first and foremost find the right measures and instruments for the present. We need to make sure that the Member States can spend what they need to help their peoples.
SPIEGEL: Will the European Union fall apart if its members do not find unity now?
Di Maio: The financial markets see a strong Europe when it speaks with one voice.
SPIEGEL: The head of the League Matteo Salvini has immediately relaunched new campaigns against the EU. Does that worry you?
Di Maio: Salvini is a minor problem at the moment. The theme now is not the anti-European campaigns - but the European responses. If we find them, those who want to destroy Europe will have no chance.
SPIEGEL: Russia and China were the first to help Italy. Is it possible that the country is moving away from Europe and turning to other partners?
Di Maio: China helped us a lot in the first phase when it sent us the doctors and, above all, made it possible to export protective masks and breathing equipment. But many other countries also supported us, besides the Russians, for example, Albania, Cuba and Poland. Protective equipment arrived from France; Germany, as mentioned, is hosting Italian patients, and American President Donald Trump intends to support us with 100 million dollars. Italy has always been a bridge between East and West, but we remain in the Euro-Atlantic alliance.
SPIEGEL: How coronavirus is changing the international politics?
Di Maio: I don't believe that the geostrategic balance is shifting. I'm more concerned about how the pandemic will affect the global economy. We must not forget the great success we had in the past with the European single market, with open borders, free movement. We cannot lose all this. I can’t predict how the world will develop after the coronavirus. As global community, from this crisis we will learn that not only economic freedoms are essential, but also welfare state and health systems.
SPIEGEL: When and how will your country return to normality?
Di Maio: It would be irresponsible to plan concrete steps towards reopening until there are adequate signs from the scientists who advise us.
SPIEGEL: Is the worst phase over?
Di Maio: We'll see. Scientists tell us that we have reached the peak, but still not overcome it.