The leaders of Spain and Italy called on Wednesday for a strong and rapid European response to the economic crisis that’s been triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte met Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez in Madrid ten days ahead of a crucial European Union summit where leaders will try to reach a deal on the €750 billion ($846 billion) coronavirus recovery package, and the long-term EU budget.

The Spanish and Italian leaders both insisted that EU leaders must come to an “ambitious” agreement by the end of the month.

“There isn’t another possibility. It has to be in July,” Sanchez told a joint press conference. “If you look in historic terms, Europe was the response to the massive crisis of World War II. Now, it has to be the answer to the crisis of COVID-19.”

“If we come to an agreement this July, the situation will be comparable to the creation of the Euro, the single market or the Treaty of Rome,” he continued. “This is what we are talking about – a historic step forward in the common project of Europe.”

Conte said the tragic experiences of COVID-19 in Spain and Italy unite the two countries, which also agree on the need for a generous European aid package.

According to a report released on Tuesday by the European Commission, the economies of Italy and Spain are set to be the EU’s hardest hit by the pandemic – both contracting by around 11% this year.

“It’s not only the sadness that unites us, we have to be able to respond to this historic challenge with courage, we have to send a strong message: we cannot go into debt… the only valid European response is a strong one that takes into account the interest of all European states,” the Italian premier said.

Sanchez pointed out that five months into the crisis, the EU has only provided support to member states through loans.

The leaders will continue bilateral meetings over the next week, with Sanchez scheduled to meet the heads of Germany, Sweden and the Netherlands.

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