University of Messina
(The authentic text is only the one actually delivered)
Your Magnificence, Rector Pietro Navarra,
Honourable Deputies and Senators,
Mr Mayor and Mr Prefect,
Msgr. Giovanni Accolla,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am indeed very happy to be here with you today.
A week ago, on the 25th of March, Italy was the throbbing heart of the important event organised to celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of the signing of the Treaties of Rome. The image of the Heads of State and Government in the Sala degli Orazi e Curiazi on Capitol Hill, the image of an “undivided and indivisible Europe”, form the best possible preamble for today’s meeting.
The Rome Summit opened a useful debate on the meaning of the European Union and of our being European. From Rome echoed a strong and clear message: together we must give new momentum and vitality to the Community project. This is the time to bridge the gap between intentions, words and actions. This is the time to design, prepare and build the Europe of tomorrow. A Europe that is better, stronger, more cohesive and secure. A Europe of prosperity and a Europe of social policy.
And in order to correct some of the errors of the past, every step forward in creating an economic Europe must be matched by at least two towards a social Europe: we must double the level of political ambition in combating unemployment, social exclusion and poverty and in adopting policies in favour of youth and of the middle classes, which are the motive forces of our growth.
But what is Europe? Europe, argued Luigi Einaudi in 1947 at the Constituent Assembly, is «an idea of liberty against intolerance, an idea of voluntary cooperation towards the common good and against brute force». The distinctive traits of the idea and of the development of Europe can be found in the reasons why the Union and its forerunners were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012: «for over six decades [having] contributed to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe. The work of the EU represents ‘fraternity between nations’».
Thus, from our forerunners, we have inherited the biggest project of peace and the most extensive space of freedom in the world, the most ambitious political and institutional experiment in history. I was born in 1970 and I am the first in my family to have known nothing but peace, prosperity, wellbeing, democracy and liberty. I was born where Europe ends and Africa begins, my electoral constituency includes Lampedusa, and from the balcony of my house I see the Mediterranean. If it were within human eyeshot, across the sea I would see Africa; if it were within human earshot, I would hear the rattling of weapons and the blast of bombs. It would be sufficient to evoke the dramas and destructions of past wars, the thought of enemy populations fighting each other, to tightly hang on to Europe and disavow the rhetoric of those who question it day in and day out.
It is no rhetoric exercise to question oneself on how the future should be “designed”, to quote the title of this meeting, on the need to reinvigorate the very concept of Europe, starting from those principles that defined the horizons and went into forming the vision of the Founding Fathers, from those same paradigms that today should serve to legitimise any attempt to design the ideal community.
It is no rhetoric exercise to do so here with you, precisely in Messina. In this city, in June 1955, the six Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the CECA Countries laid the grounds for the creation of a European Common Market, intended to be the motive force of the resumption of an integration process that was lagging after the failure of the EDC, the European Defence Community.
The major driver of that “relaunching” was an authentic Messinian, an offspring of this city, the then Foreign Minister Gaetano Martino. Instead of being discouraged by the stalemate, he found the strength to look forward, upholding the idea that “the ideal has not dimmed”, that “the ultimate goal of Italian foreign policy remains the unity of Europe”.
Italy got the ball rolling. At the Messina Conference the six Founding Countries agreed on the need to relaunch the construction of Europe in the economic field and to put in place “a united Europe through the development of common institutions, the progressive merging of national economies, the creation of a Common Market and the progressive harmonisation of social policies.”
Messina symbolically and concretely marked the starting point on the path that led to signing in Rome of the Treaties that established the European Communities on 25 March 1957.
Sixty years have elapsed since then. Much has been done and much is still left to do in order to complete the process of building Europe, which is now at a difficult historical turning point, and that is made all the more complex by the major challenges simultaneously put forward by modernity: the Brexit and the progressive exit of the United Kingdom; an economic crisis with devastating effects, which are lasting longer than the two world wars put together; the impact on our social fabric caused by unprecedented migration flows; the threat to our collective security and to the everyday way of life of our people, the threat posed by a fundamental terrorism that has changed form and overturned the paradigms of understanding of the past.
I think that one of Europe’s major problems today is that it has lost its founding cornerstone, namely to be and consider itself a “Community of Fate”. For too long we have been the victims of a failed design, which became evident with the incapability to imagine a horizon made of common interests, too often sacrificed to a short-lived present fuelled by national egoisms and outdated localisms. Unfortunately, up to now Europe has not proven to be farsighted in tackling the big problems of our time.
But if our grandfathers and fathers overcame the dramas of 20th Century ideologies, leaving behind them a season of horrors, our task today is not to remain ensnared in another season of horrors. This means coming up with an “enlightened response” to the rightful claims of public opinions. This means outlining a “political vision” to adequately come to terms with new unforeseeable events. This means reforming Europe in order to “create a better one”, more attentive to the needs of its citizens and less so to measures of austerity, more attentive to the needs of young people and their necessity to find a job. Less focused on the “decimals”, less cold and indifferent, more warm and compassionate.
We need the courage to break a consolidated pattern, to invert the paradigms of the prevailing narration that attributes the blame of all our evils to Europe: we need to combat the “European jeremiad” and work at defining new and even more ambitious political and planning platforms than in the past.
Protest movements demagogically and exaltingly always turn criticalities into the very essence of their message. It is a block of protests that not only criticises what Europe does but rejects what Europe itself represents, in the name of an unrealistic pretence to hide within the thin folds of their own self-referentiality. By closing borders, we are told, everything will be easier; we would all be richer and safer. In fact, we would all become poorer and more defenceless.
Also, if Italy were alone in warding off protectionism, it would be much weaker in defending its products. Being part of the EU – the largest commercial bloc in the world – enables us to be more assertive and effective.
Populism, by believing in protectionism, sows fear, exploits anger and disseminates false truths. Populists deceive people because they speculate on their disappointment in order to fuel new illusory expectations, and play their hand on the field of disintegration, adding rubble to rubble.
The aim of populists is to break up that mosaic of democracy, liberty, solidarity and peace, laboriously built by our fathers.
We are in the presence of a cultural conflict that touches upon the very existential dimension: on one side rage, resentment, fear, improvisation; on the other side hope, the wish to resist surrendering to resignation, confiding on being able to prevail.
The battle against populists can be won not by following in their tracks on their playing field but by offering concrete solutions to the discomfort of citizens who must be put in the condition of going back to looking to Europe as a “Community of Fate”, in which to feel fully empowered actors and participants.
Many of the challenges facing us, in order to be tackled, would need us to return to the authentic “spirit of Messina”, intended as the vocation to get back on track – tangibly and resolutely – towards a shared ideal.
Allow me to now launch an appeal also to those who, in this hall, might have lost the ideal sense of Europe. I will do it with very pragmatic and concrete arguments of why to be pro Europe:
- Because we carry the Euro and the European health insurance card in our wallets. With the Euro, we can travel free of cares throughout the Union and with the health card we are entitled to receive hospital medical care everywhere.
- Because we have the safest and most closely controlled food in the world, thanks to the traceability and quick alert system triggered in case of hazardous products.
- Because we have the right to be reimbursed when we travel by air or sea, in case of delays or cancellations.
- Because, from 2017 on, our cell phones will no longer be charged extra costs when travelling between one country and another of the Union, in transferring calls, text messages and data.
- Because with Europe we can finance our ideas through projects like “Creative Europe”, but also protect the environment with programmes such as “Life”.
- Because we have had young people participating in the Erasmus programme for thirty years, thus broadening their linguistic and cultural horizons and their job and career opportunities.
- Because we can work in any country in the Union and seek a job on “Eures”, the European professional mobility portal.
When I now look into the eyes of so many youths, I am all the more confident that all together we will succeed to “design” a better Europe:
- A Europe capable of finding within itself, within its history and values, within its capacity to regenerate itself and meet new extraordinary challenges, the determination to plot uncommon routes, which need to be followed to the very end in the prospect of a concrete and viable project for the future. A project to be developed with great care and commitment, primarily for our children.
- A Europe with a soul and feelings, at the same time firm and compassionate; capable, as Italy has proved to be, of combining solidarity and security.
- A Europe as sympathetic as my Sicily, our Sicily, a land that has borne the highest “cost” for being the gate of Europe. A land that has saved the face of Europe, never looking the other way when faced with the distress of migrants.
- A Europe grounded on the “federalism of the spirit”, assuring solidarity among the Member States, in order to prevail over national egoisms and opportunisms.
The Europe that I like to imagine, dear students, is the one that defines and moulds its identity by investing on the great resource represented by the Erasmus generation, on the vivacity of young people capable of circulating ideas, interests, projects, hopes, dreams and visions, sharing your hunger for conquest in an enormous open space of liberty and justice.
Europe’s march will not be triumphant. It will rather be a long race in stages and every day will bring its own burden. But we must be aware of the historical role that Europe has played, of the extraordinary goals achieved and of the equally extraordinary opportunities that the future could bring.
Let us defend our past and our future, let us defend Europe, supported by our faith in the values that have made it big, supported by the faith in the principles that represent the folds of our souls, the vital and irreplaceable heritage on which to ground our message of hope, against all loss of political ideal, against any pretence of disintegrating the horizon of meaning in which we all live.
But it is time for our Europe to recover its inner reality and planning capacity, so as to counter any argument of those who want to backtrack on history, to demolish any alibi of those who want to build new borders, and to revive the “spirit of Messina”.
It is with this spirit that we must look towards new “clear and certain” goals. Today history is offering us a second precious chance: Common Defence is again the horizon we need to meet our citizens’ tangible demand of security.
And to go forwards it is important to find a level of “compatible ambition” among the most ambitious Countries so as to build a “critical mass”. Without sitting by to wait for the less ambitious. Without waiting for the ambition of the less ambitious to grow bigger. This would be a mistake, especially when our security is at stake.
But it would be an unforgivable mistake if we were precisely the ones to lose ambition. I confide in young Italians and in their great capacity to conceive, design and build. To dream of a better future and to help build the Europe of tomorrow.
You represent the “Europe of hope” that Gaetano Martino referred to: “[The Europe] that promises to make faster and more harmonious progress than the Europe of yesterday; that will not disappoint the hopes of the majority of free people who wish to conserve their freedom and multiply its fruits.”
Thank you very much.