Florence, 5 May 2017
(The authentic text is only the one actually delivered)
I extend a warm welcome to President Tajani and President Juncker. I would also like to thank Mayor Nardella for the hospitality. [We are also pleased to have Mrs Maria Romana De Gasperi here with us today].
My heartfelt thanks also go to President Dehousse and the European University Institute for having organised the “State of the Union 2017” in the stunning setting of Palazzo Vecchio.
After having enlightened the world with Humanism and the Renaissance, in recent years Florence has returned to being a hotbed of innovative ideas in the European debate. Thanks to the European University Institute, this city is making a brilliant intellectual contribution to Europeanist thought.
Educating the best young talents, the European University Institute is like a modern Court of the Medicis. It teaches them to think critically, encouraging them to put the European citizen at the centre of Europeanist reflection.
Just as the Renaissance put human beings and their requirements at the centre of artistic, scientific and philosophical creation, there is now an urgent need to put European citizens first in the European Union’s agenda.
Two thousand years ago, the biggest source of pride was saying: “Civis Romanus sum” or “I am a Roman citizen” to assert the rights associated with Roman citizenship.
In a Europe divided by the Cold War, in his famous speech in West Berlin in June 1963, President Kennedy recalled this famous Roman phrase to state that in the free world the greatest pride came from saying: “Ich bin ein Berliner” or “I am a Berliner“.
Today, in a united Europe, which has guaranteed peace and freedom for over 60 years, this same pride comes from saying: “Civis Europaeus Sum” or “I am a citizen of the European Union“.
These words, which are the central theme of “State of the Union 2017”, express one of the greatest achievements of our generation!
But it would be a serious error to think that these achievements are irreversible.
The civilisation and rights of the Roman Empire receded with the advent of the Barbarians. Today there is an absolute need to avoid the rights associated with European citizenship regressing as a result of the rise of populist and nationalist movements.
I am convinced that to avoid this dangerous regression, we need above all to put an end to the crisis in the Mediterranean.
Since the beginning of my mandate at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, I have been committed to putting the Mediterranean back on the European foreign policy agenda.
I have done this for security and prosperity reasons, but also because instability in the Mediterranean is like a “warm scirocco” that fans the “flames of populists and demagogues”.
If we want to avoid the populist fire spreading and burning the foundations of our democracies, Europe has to contribute to resolving the crisis in North Africa.
Europe has to act to extinguish these dangerous flames that some European politicians – let’s be clear – have irresponsibly contributed to lighting.
Putting an end to instability in North Africa is therefore vital for the European project to survive, because I am convinced that the fate of European is inextricably bound to that of the Mediterranean!
Giorgio La Pira, a great Mayor of Florence, said: “The Mediterranean is like the continuation of Lake Tiberias: a small sea, a lake, where once again we are playing with the fate of the world, the fate of peace, security and freedom”.
If we want to make a serious and rational contribution to the political debate in our countries and neutralise the demagogic arguments of so many populist movements, we must also stem migration across the Central Mediterranean.
The migration crisis is proliferating above all because of the enduring instability in Libya. But migration is both a symptom of instability in Africa, and the reason for the spread of populist movements in Europe.
The time has therefore come to tackle this issue with a long term vision and to share responsibilities: because it will remain on the European agenda for years and cannot be dealt with as an emergency by one or two countries on their own.
Furthermore, it cannot be said that the Agreement with Turkey has solved the problem, ignoring the fact that the Central Mediterranean route continues to be exploited by unscrupulous traffickers who have landed over 500,000 people in Italy over the past three years.
European citizens are concerned about security, which is why, in addition to controlling the borders of Europe, we must have the capacity to defend them.
Common Defence is not only a way to relaunch European integration, it is also a very concrete response to our citizens’ demand for security.
With this strong awareness, the Rome Declaration of 25 March, signed on the 60th anniversary of the Treaties of Rome, stated the need for a strong Europe that is able to strengthen its defence and security capabilities.
Managing and defending our borders effectively also means protecting the area of rights we have built in the continent over the past sixty years.
It is essential to give further impetus to the subject of a Common Defence policy before the European Council in June, in order to offer European citizens a tangible project. So far the debate has been technocratic. We need to make it political, getting citizens involved in such a crucial theme for our future!
In addition to security, citizens are asking us for economic stability.
As a member of the European People’s Party, I am a convinced Europeanist and I have always defended the Euro! Because we must never forget that the Euro has guaranteed the value of the homes, savings and pensions of our citizens. If the Euro were to collapse, there would be a serious risk of the value and wealth of Italians being halved.
The Euro has shielded us against an economic crisis that could have been even deeper and offers very low interest rates, which means we can repay loans and fund growth. In the past, with the “Lira”, interest rates climbed as high as 20%.
But at the same time – with over 15 million unemployed in the Euro zone – the Euro is not currently giving the appropriate answers.
A more social Europe is needed, one that cares for the weak, the middle classes, the young and their employment prospects. A Europe that is more attentive to the needs of its citizens. More lively and warm. Less cold and indifferent to people’s demands. This is the only way to strengthen the democratic legitimacy of the EU’s institutions.
The wrong but prevailing trend so far has been to deal with social problems with an economic approach alone, partly because of political weakness.
The exodus of young people from southern to northern Europe, for example, is a serious problem, but it has often been examined with a technical and economic approach which ignores the deeper political causes.
The problem has been exacerbated by excessive and persistent economic imbalances in the Eurozone. If we remain trapped in a technical and economic logic, we risk turning in on ourselves. In theory, when one of our economies becomes an engine, rather than running ahead on its own, it should tow the other carriages along behind it. In reality, however, European engines are travelling on their own.
To be clear: countries with perennial positive trade balances burn the wealth of the countries in deficit because, rather than being towed along, these countries have had to recover their competitiveness and reduce their standard of living, generating deflation and reducing demand, which have not been offset by expansionist policies in countries with a trade surplus.
These imbalances in the Eurozone have had a devastating effect on the lives and expectations of so many Italian and European young people.
How can we tell these young people to believe in Europe when they have been its first victims? When they have had to abandon their plans and their dreams.
These are not rhetorical questions. The future of Europe depends on the answers to these questions.
But it would be illusory to take refuge in econometric models and technocratic explanations to tell millions of young European citizens that their unemployment, the need to emigrate to find work, is merely the consequence of rebalancing in a “monetary area that is working well”.
The problem is political and requires political solutions, not technical “patches”. The task has to be taken on first of all by the governments of the countries which are most keen to safeguard the European Union, together with the Brussels-based institutions.
The time has come to respond with pro-European momentum, but not with blind faith and a technocratic approach.
With the Rome Declaration on 25 March this year we wanted to convey a strong message of confidence in the future of the EU to our citizens.
But there are no magic formulas or predefined models. What is required – every day – is the political will to support the integration project as a concrete response to the challenges of our time.
At the beginning of the 1950s, De Gasperi had to some extent warned us, saying: if all we build is common administration structures, without a higher political will, there is a risk that European activity, compared with national vitality, will appear lacking in warmth and devoid of any ideal life … a superfluous and perhaps oppressive superstructure.
The challenge is deeply political. It depends on our capacity to have vision, our level of ambition, our willingness to bring vitality and warmth to the European project.
Therefore, we must not fear taking the path towards a differentiated integration.
Moving forward requires us to find a level of “compatible ambition” between the more ambitious countries and to create a “critical mass”, without waiting for the ambition of the least ambitious, or for the ambition of the least ambitious to mature into a greater ambition.
And never forgetting that European citizens must always remain at the centre of this amazing common European project.