March 10, 2020 / 3:17 PM / 20 days ago

EU open to compensating virus-hit firms, more help for Italy

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Commission is ready to consider compensation measures for companies hit by the coronavirus outbreak, officials said on Tuesday, adding additional support was on the cards for Italy.

FILE PHOTO: European Commissioner for a Europe Fit for the Digital Age Margrethe Vestager speaks during the presentation of the European Commission's data/digital strategy in Brussels, Belgium February 19, 2020. REUTERS/Yves Herman/File Photo

“The Commission is here to discuss possible support measures to compensate companies for damages due to COVID-19,” European Union antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager told a news conference, citing the name of the disease caused by the new coronavirus.

She added Italy, the EU country worst hit so far, could possibly benefit from further measures, in addition to more flexibility already granted by Brussels on fiscal rules.

“We stand ready to work with Italy on additional measures that may be needed as a remedy to the serious disturbance to their economy,” she said.

“We will support Italy and its people by any means and measures at our disposal,” the Commission’s vice-president on economic matters Valdis Dombrovskis told the same news conference. He added that Europe was able to withstand the economic crisis caused by the coronavirus.

The Commission, the EU’s executive, estimated in an internal document that Italy and France were at risk of a technical recession in the first quarter of this year caused by the coronavirus.

Vestager added that under existing EU rules on public subsidies, governments can in some circumstances help companies in liquidity shortages or in need of urgent rescue aid.

Separately, the European Parliament cancelled its next April plenary session due to take place in Strasbourg, France, and decided to hold a smaller meeting in Brussels instead, according to an internal email seen by Reuters.

The chamber will decide on longer-term plans on March 25.

No voting sessions will take place remotely, meaning the EU’s legislative process could face delays.

Reporting by Francesco Guarascio; additional reporting by Marine Strauss; editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Mark Potter

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