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EU must avoid virus 'nationalism', Macron says

  • 'This virus does not have a passport,' French president Emmanuel Macron said (Photo: elysee.fr)

EU states should keep borders open where possible and not give in to coronavirus "nationalism" French president Emmanuel Macron has said.

"If one principle should guide our actions ... it's confidence in science," Macron said in a TV address from the Élysée palace on Thursday (12 March).

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"We will no doubt have measures to take, but they must be taken to reduce trade between the areas which are affected and those which are not. These are not necessarily national borders," he said.

"We must not give in to any panic. We will no doubt have control measures, border closings to take, but we will have to take them when they are relevant and we will have to take them as Europeans, on a European scale, because it is on this scale that we have built our freedoms and protections," he added.

He spoke against what he called a potential "nationalist withdrawal" by France and other EU states.

"This virus does not have a passport. We must join forces, coordinate our responses, cooperate ... European coordination is essential," he also said.

Scientists were working on a "European" level to find an antidote and a vaccine to the coronavirus, he said.

Macron also called for better coordination at the level of the G7 and G20 groups of wealthy nations on a global scale.

His approach came in contrast to US president Donald Trump, who banned nationals from 26 EU states on Wednesday from coming to the US in order to combat what he called a "foreign virus".

Trump's move caused "panic" among many Americans in Europe, who started buying flights to go home immediately in case all journeys across the Atlantic were banned, and it aggravated a run on airline shares, the Reuters news agency reported.

Saudi Arabia also banned flights from Europe, though the UK did not.

But Trump doubled down on his decision and on his lack of consultation with EU leaders before going ahead.

"We had to make a decision and I didn't want to take time, and it takes a long time to make the individual calls ... I mean when they raise taxes on us, they don't consult us," the US leader said on Thursday.

France and neighbouring Belgium also announced sweeping closures of schools, restaurants, shops, and other businesses on Thursday on a par with the lockdown in Italy.

"We are only at the beginning of this epidemic. Across Europe, it is accelerating, it is intensifying," Macron warned.

The economic relief measures announced by the European Central Bank (ECB) earlier on Thursday would not be enough and EU states ought to dig deep to compensate traders for lost income, he said.

The EU also needed a "massive" rescue plan to prevent a new economic crisis on the continent, he added.

"Will they [the ECB measures] be sufficient? I don't believe that. It will be up to them to take new ones," Macron said.

"We Europeans will not allow a financial and economic crisis to spread. We will react strongly and we will react quickly," he added.

"I do not know what the financial markets will do in the coming days ... [but] Europe will react in an organised, massive way to protect its economy," he said.

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