March 15, 2020 / 9:31 AM / 17 days ago

EU finance ministers to hold video call on virus on Monday

FILE PHOTO: European Union flags fly outside the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, February 19, 2020. Picture taken February 19, 2020 REUTERS/Yves Herman/File Photo

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - European Union finance ministers will meet on Monday to discuss the impact of the coronavirus and measures to restart their economies, but by video call rather than in person.

Mario Centeno, the chair of the “Eurogroup” of euro zone finance ministers, said in a tweet late on Saturday that the sense of urgency and coordinated effort was unprecedented.

The Eurogroup had been due to meet in person in Brussels on Monday, with an initial agenda just for euro zone members including a review of Greece, followed by a discussion on the coronavirus by ministers from all 27 EU nations.

Centeno, who is Portugal’s finance minister, said the meeting would take the form of a video call given restrictive measures to contain the virus, including in Belgium.

“This Eurogroup meeting will be an important step in our path to contain the virus. I am convinced that, as the situation evolves, further steps will come. We will stand united to overcome fear and restart our economies,” Centeno said.

A focus of discussions is likely to be the European Commission plan unveiled on Friday to boost spending on sectors of the economy hit by the coronavirus and to let EU nations run bigger deficits to help cushion businesses.

The EU executive, which predicted the outbreak would lead to a recession in the bloc this year, wants to channel 37 billion euros ($41 billion) of existing EU funds to companies in greatest need and take a lenient approach to state aid rules.

The redirection of these funds, many of them already committed to poorer eastern regions, needs approval from EU governments and lawmakers. The Commission hopes this clearance can come within two weeks.

Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop; Editing by Frances Kerry

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