EU leaders on Thursday will try to unify Europe's scattershot response to the COVID-19 outbreak that has crippled Europe, with France and Italy calling for "corona bonds" to help jump start the economy.

Hundreds of millions of EU citizens are holed up in lockdowns to help slow the pandemic that has killed more than ten thousand Europeans, mainly in Italy, Spain and France.

Early on, member states privileged national responses by shutting borders, hoarding medical supplies and waving through major spending plans regardless of EU rules.

"When Europe really needed to be there for each other, too many initially looked out for themselves," European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said ahead of the talks.

"When Europe really needed an 'all for one' spirit, too many initially gave an 'only for me' response," she added, speaking at a sparsely attended session of European Parliament.

The former German defence minister said Brussels was now trying to build a more singular approach and leaders will use video talks to put that into action.

According to a draft statement, measures should include building an emergency stock of medical equipment and easing inter-EU border closures.

They will also rubber stamp the suspension of EU deficit rules that will allow countries to spend freely to fight the virus regardless of deficits.

The 27 leaders will in addition task EU officials to start work on an "exit strategy" and recovery plan to help rebuild the economy after the havoc wrought by COVID-19 and the drastic shutdown measures taken to fight it.

'Indecently ideological'

In their own call for EU solidarity, nine EU leaders ahead of the talks said any economic plan should include the launch of joint borrowing by members of the euro single currency.

But that proposal was rejected behind the scenes by Germany, the Netherlands and other rich northern bloc members, who slam it as indecently "ideological" during a health crisis.

France, Spain and Italy have long called for a some kind of eurobond, that is in effect joint borrowing by the 19 members of the euro single currency.

They say it could serve as the bedrock of a safer and more unified European economy and would become a globally respected asset on par with the US Treasury bills.

But wealthier members see the eurobond as an attempt by over-spending southerners to take advantage of cheap borrowing prices afforded Germany and other paragons of balanced budgets.

Thursday's summit will also take stock of measures taken across the bloc to promote the search for a vaccine.

Europe has become the heart of the pandemic, with the death tolls in both Italy and Spain overtaking that of China, where the disease first emerged.

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