In the final quarter of last year, the eurozone economy of 19 EU countries barely grew at all. According to an official estimate, the economic growth in the region was at 0.1 percent during the three months to the end of December 2019. Two of the eurozone’s largest economies also shrank in the period: France by 0.1 percent and Italy by 0.3 percent.
To further complicate matters, economists believe that the coronavirus outbreak that in the last couple of weeks has taken the grip of Italy will plunge Rome into a steep recession.
On Tuesday, Italy imposed sweeping nationwide restrictions on travel and public life, in a desperate attempt to contain the outbreak.
The measures announced include travel restrictions on 60 million residents, a ban on public events, the closure of schools, cinemas, museums and gyms, and limits on opening hours for restaurants, bars and shops.
The Government took action as the number of deaths caused by coronavirus reached 827 and infections topped 14,000.
As the eurozone faces one of the biggest crises of the past decade, a 2018 speech by pro-EU businessman George Soros has resurfaced, in which the billionaire outlined a three-point plan to save Europe.
Speaking at the annual meeting of the European Council on Foreign Relations, Mr Soros claimed that the bloc’s pressing issues could have been broken down into the refugee crisis, territorial breakups such as Brexit, and economic struggles brought on by austerity.
The Hungarian-born currency speculator, now a US citizen, said the best place for Europe to begin was to address the refugee crisis and to remove regulation, which dictates the number of refugees that each country should accept.
He said: “Member states should not be forced to accept refugees they don’t want and refugees should not be forced to settle in countries where they don’t want to go.”
However, he argued that the idea of a “fortress Europe” was unrealistic.
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Moreover, the billionaire investor said geopolitical tensions and the weakening of ties with Washington meant that Europe was heading towards another economic slowdown.
He said a heavy investment in Africa could have helped mitigate any fresh economic woes and claimed some financial wizardry could have debt fears from lenders.
He said: “I want to point out that the proposal contains an ingenious device that would enable the EU to borrow from the market at a very advantageous rate without incurring a direct obligation for itself or for its member states.”
Mr Soros then moved on to “territorial disintegration” and used Brexit as an example.
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Describing Britain’s departure from the EU as “immensely damaging” and “harmful to both sides,” Mr Soros said Brussels should have rebranded the EU as an association that countries want to join.
He claimed this could have been achieved by accepting that the euro as a currency has many unresolved problems and that the two-tier status of eurozone and non-euro zone countries should end.
Mr Soros added that the idea of a “multi-speed Europe” where all countries are moving to further integration should have been abandoned and replaced with the idea of a “multi-track Europe” where member states have more choice over their political and economic direction.
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