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Virus crisis is EU's biggest test since its founding - Merkel

Discussions between EU leaders over what a possible aid package would consist of have been fraught with nations hardest hit in the health crisis pitted against economically stronger countries.

FILE: Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel. Picture: AFP

BERLIN - The coronavirus pandemic is the biggest test that the European Union has faced in its history, Chancellor Angela Merkel said Monday, stressing that Germany is "ready to contribute" to boosting the bloc.

"In my view... the European Union stands before the biggest test since its founding," Merkel told journalists ahead of a key eurozone finance ministers' conference to draw up an economic rescue plan for the bloc.

"Everyone is just as affected as the other, and therefore, it is in everyone's interest, and it is in Germany's interest for Europe to emerge strong from this test."

Discussions between EU leaders over what a possible aid package would consist of have been fraught with nations hardest hit in the health crisis pitted against economically stronger countries.

Italy, France, and Spain have been imploring Germany, Austria, and the Netherlands for common debt facilities to cushion the economic impact of the virus.

But conservative politicians in the north fear the plans would mean the eventual mutualisation of all sovereign debts and their taxpayers footing the bill for supposed southern profligacy.

At Monday's press conference, Merkel reiterated her government's stance of activating the European Stability Mechanism bailout fund, which German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz has said could be triggered "with no senseless conditions" to help struggling states.

But she made no mention of the controversial common debt facilities dubbed "coronabonds".

Merkel also said a lesson to be learnt from the pandemic was that Europe needed to develop "self-sufficiency" in manufacturing of crucial medical gear such as masks.

"Regardless of the fact that this market is presently installed in Asia... we need a certain self-sufficiency, or at least a pillar of our own manufacturing" in Germany or elsewhere in the European Union, she said.

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