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Governo Italiano

Address to the De Gasperi Foundation Conference on "60 years from the signing of the Treaties of Rome: Is a European Union still possible?" (Senate of the Republic, 23 March, 2017)



Address to the De Gasperi Foundation Conference on

(The authentic text is only the one actually delivered)


President Maria Romana De Gasperi,

Honorable Deputies and Senators,

Ladies and Gentleman, 

I returned only a few hours ago from a mission to the United States. I still feel the  jetlag, but I wanted to be here with you today.
I would like to join the De Gasperi Foundation in extending my sincerest thanks to the distinguished guests, who are honouring us today with their presence:

- President Mikuláš Dzurinda, who delivered the Opening Address
- Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel

- Senator Ben Knapen

- MP Vivian Reding

- President Jean-Dominique Giuliani

- Professor Steven Van Hecke

- Ambassador Vincenzo Grassi, who is also our moderator

Italy is a country that has believed in the European integration since its very beginning. It is its natural vocation. It is an existential dimension of our Country.

And if today we were to make an overall assessment, if it were for peace alone, it would turn out to be an extremely positive one. However, it is not only peace we have built: we have united to promote our common progress and we have become the second industrial global power.

'The European Union is the best institutional experiment in the world.' 

But the world has changed and 85 percent of Italians (according to a recent poll by Deloitte) demand of Europe a change of pace on issues that concern us the most: security, growth and immigration.

I myself, as many other Italians, am Euro-disappointed. But there is a difference between being dissatisfied and disappointed and allowing pessimism to take over hope and take our future  hostage. . 

There is an enormous difference between people's and radical populist parties, and the difference in Italy is evident: there are those who want to reform the EU and those who want to exit; there are those who look forward into the future in a constructive way and those who want to give in to pessimism and fear.   

Pessimism and fear, which populisms are spreading today, cannot breed anything good. 

Pessimism has never created a new job.

Fear cannot help manage either today's migration crisis, or fighting terrorism, because those who live in fear are not free. 

And then those who surrender to pessimism cannot expect things to change.

Therefore, I believe we can be 'pro-Europe' also by expressing dissatisfaction, but our goal should still be that of reforming Europe to create a better version of it: more responsive to the needs of its citizens and less focused on austerity; more vital and welcoming, less cold and indifferent to people's demands.

Europe is at a historical crossroad: it can either go forward or backward, but it cannot stay still.
At the beginning of the 50s, De Gasperi somehow warned us about today's crisis. He said: 'If we limit ourselves to building only common administrations that do not rest on a higher common political will, we will face the risk for European activity to appear cold and lifeless, if compared to our nations' vitality... a superfluous and maybe even oppressing superstructure.'

This is why I believe that the first major challenge - for us the pro-Europe supporters - lies in our ability to win back public opinion
We should do so by refraining from countering populists' slogans with other slogans.
We, who love Europe should 'bridge the gap between intentions, words and actions'.

We, who love Europe, as De Gasperi himself used to say, must press ahead with the integration process never losing sight of  'a clear and well-defined goal'.

It is in this spirit that we must approach the Rome Summit  (25 March), advancing towards new 'clear and well-defined' goals such as a Common European Defence.

In the '50s Italy was among the first countries advocating a Common Defence System through the Common European Defence (CED) project

There is an extraordinary correspondence between De Gasperi, at the end of his life, and representatives of the Christian Democratic Party, where he called on everyone to fight for the CED.

When De Gasperi felt the CED project was about to fail, he cried over the phone to Scelba, who was then our prime minister: 'Death is a better option than not achieving a Common European Defence!'

It was a 'thorn in his heart', as De Gasperi said a few days before his death. He knew all too well that without a CED, we would have had a more fragile and incomplete Europe.

Tears wasted over a betrayed ideal have always motivated us to engage in fulfilling the project. But it is only now that we can see how far-sighted his vision was and how inexcusable that omission is, for which the EU is bearing the cost of its irrelevance and division in the most sensitive scenarios

Today history is giving us a second precious opportunity - a common defence is back on centre-stage and would serve our needs to respond in a tangible way to the demand for  the security of our citizens.

The Rome Summit can add vitality and momentum to a Common Defence in view of the next European Council meeting.
It is a major step forward in terms of a European Defence which leads me to engage in a more ample debate which is growing on the theme of differentiated integration.
I believe that there is too much emphasis on differentiated integration, simply because it has been a reality for many years now.
But rather, those who have come to realise it, should take stock of the reality.
There are several Europes, as clearly exemplified by the Eurozone (with 19 Member States) and the Schengen Area (with 22 Member States plus four States that are not EU-members). It is a system composed of concentric circles, where each state shares different integration levels at variable positions within the common framework of the union.
There are other examples: we should not erroneously think that it is a matter of creating a class A Europe and a class B Europe, a Europe of the East and a Europe of the West.

The only true difference is a positive one - the level of ambition. To press ahead we need to identify a 'compatible level' of ambition between the most ambitious countries and create a 'critical mass'. We should not wait for the ambition of the least ambitious of us all to grow. It would be a mistake, especially when it is our own security at stake.

It is a major step forward in terms of a European Defence which leads me to talk about the Mediterranean.

The level of ambition on a Common Defence has finally stepped up, because many Europeans are realising that multiple crises and asymmetrical threats are coming from the Mediterranean.

A European Defence would be key for the very vitality of NATO. I believe that it will encourage NATO to shift its focus from east to south, where today's major challenges to the security of our citizens lie.

A Common Defence and NATO are complementary. Our transatlantic vocation has never been  questioned. The US itself is asking for a more equitable contribution. For us, the pro-European side, it is almost like an 'assist' from the US to spur us to refocus on integrating our defence.

I said it quite frankly to the Secretary General of NATO Stoltenberg and to our American friends in Washington: the Mediterranean is the new real theatre of action, which links the EU to NATO and to the United States of America.

A Common European Defence is in the best interest of Europe. It is in the best interest of the US. it is in the best interest of NATO. It is in the best interest of our partners in the Mediterranean, but above all, it is in the best interest of our citizens who are demanding a higher level of security. We can all benefit from it.

We, Italians, know all too well that the future of Europe is in the Mediterranean.

Giorgio La Pira said: 'The Mediterranean is like a continuation of the Tiberias Lake: a small sea, a lake, where one more time we decide the fate of our world, of peace, security and freedom.'

And since it is essential that we relaunch the EU by putting new ambitions at its centre, we should not forget about the ambitions of the Balkans. A differentiated integration could provide us with more effective answers also in terms of neighbourhood policies.

This year Italy holds the presidency of the Berlin Process.

It is of the essence not to waste the capital that has matured in the Balkans.

The Trieste summit (12 July) will be an opportunity for Europe to be a protagonist again in its own
neighbourhood. And confirm 'what kind of Europe' it wants to be.

There is another important point: if populism thrives across the founding countries, a Europeanism deficit increases as well as the wish to leave grows out of mere fatigue. In the Balkans there is still a strong desire to be part of the European project.

A renewed attention towards the Balkans may mean the infusion of new energy in a process that has run the risk of seeing enthusiasm and passion deteriorate. 

I would like to conclude by making a brief comment on two other fundamental Europes: the Europe of prosperity and a social Europe.

The Europe of prosperity is the Europe that must put to best use the potential of the single market, of the economic and monetary union and of international trade policies.

We want to say 'yes' to an investment policy and 'no' to the grey and bureaucratic austerity that represses growth.

We may be dissatisfied, but let's not forget that our single currency, the euro, has guaranteed the value of our homes, savings and pensions. If we were to withdraw from the eurozone, we would run the serious risk of halving their value and the wealth of the Italian people.

Moreover, the euro has protected us from the financial crisis and has guaranteed very low interest rates, which allow us to pay mortgages and finance growth. Let's remember that when we had the lira, we had interest rates as high as 20%.

Belonging to the front of the people's party, and unlike populists, I believe that protectionism has never been the right answer, above all for an exporting Country such as Italy. Besides, closing borders would be a first step towards divisions.
I believe in a free market, but in solidarity as well.
This is why we need a social, solidarity-based Europe, capable of protecting the most vulnerable and all of those that for different reasons were unable to benefit from globalisation.
In such a Europe we would have to increase by twofold the level of ambition of our policies against unemployment, social exclusion and poverty and promote policies favouring the young, education , Erasmus and culture.
This social and solidarity-based Europe can provide a shared response to the migration crisis.
We can no longer allow tragedies to happen such as the one I witnessed in Lampedusa. Three hundred coffins and bags containing bodies have left their mark on me, changing me profoundly.

Indifference in politics can at times be appealing, even satisfying. But as an Italian I am proud to say before you that my Country did not look the other way before the suffering of the refugees and did not shirk from reaching out to those asking for help.

Italy has proven that solidarity and security can coexist. Solidarity: because we have saved thousands of lives in the Mediterranean Sea. Security: because we have acted firmly and with determination to identify and expel extremists.

I have greatly contributed to this approach. I did so with conviction and determination even if it meant losing political consensus. 

My wish is that the Rome Summit will help us design, prepare and build the Europe of tomorrow.

A Europe that stands up to the dilemma of a future as outlined by Jacques Delors: a Europe that, finding itself at a crossroad between "survival or decline", is capable of finding within itself, in its history and values, the strength to regenerate and face up to new extraordinary challenges, the determination to plot unusual paths to follow to the end in the prospect of a project for the future: targeted, feasible and better, to be built with extreme care, first and foremost for our children.

A Europe resting on a " federalism of the spirit" - a guarantee of solidarity amongst all Member States, that should take precedence over national egoisms and opportunistic choices.

A Europe that does not take shelter in "cultural protectionism", that is not afraid of coexisting with other people, because it is fully aware that every one of its actions will still be based on strong founding values and the extraordinary achievement of freedom and human rights.

A Europe capable of defining and shaping its own identity by investing on the great resource of the Erasmus generation. These brilliant young people share and disseminate ideas, interests, projects, hopes and vision, sharing their thirst of conquest in an enormous open space of freedom. 

A Europe that is a space of freedom which every day must be made more secure with a view to proving wrong those who would like to set back the clock of History and to disavow the alibis of those who build new frontiers.  

Thank you.

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