"It is true that no one was really ready for this. It is also true that too many were not there on time when Italy a needed a helping hand at the very beginning," she said in a speech to the European Parliament.
"And yes, for that, it is right that Europe as a whole offers a heartfelt apology".
She said that, after a bad start, the EU has shown it is capable of solidarity.
"Saying sorry only counts for something if it changes behaviour," she said.
"The truth is that it did not take long before everyone realised that we must protect each other to protect ourselves. And the truth is too that Europe has now become the world's beating heart of solidarity. The real Europe is standing up, the one that is there for each other when it is needed the most. The one where paramedics from Poland and doctors from Romania save lives in Italy. Where ventilators from Germany provide a lifeline in Spain. Where hospitals in Czechia treat the sick from France. And where patients from Bergamo are flown to clinics in Bonn".
Von der Leyen said Europe needs a Marshall Plan to recover from the effects of COVID-19.
"There is only one instrument we have that is trusted by all Member States, which is already in place and can deliver quickly, she said.
"It is transparent and it is time tested as an instrument for cohesion, convergence and investment. And that instrument is the European budget. The European budget will be the mothership of the recovery", she noted