Salvadori Hall, Chamber of Deputies - May 17, 2017
(The authentic text is only the one actually delivered)
Rector Magnificus Prof. Anelli,
Prof. Sciarrone Alibrandi,
Ladies and Gentleman,
I would like to thank the “Sacred Heart” Catholic University of Milan and the “Giuseppe Toniolo” Institute of Higher Studies for having organized this important event. My thanks also go to the Chamber of Deputies for hosting us here today.
I have one more reason to be pleased to be here, since the Catholic University is my alma mater, which opened my eyes to research and dialogue as a young man, and nourished me with the knowledge and values that profoundly influenced who I am. I would not be here today if it had not been for the extraordinary journey I started in Milan.
But being a young student between the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s, as I used to be, is very different from being a young student today.
Anyone who ponders our country’s future with a sense of responsibility, must think about the predicament of our young generation.
This has always been a complex and decisive subject, that is inevitably tied to other social issues such as weak manufacturing, household impoverishment, negative population growth, and the crisis of our State.
This topic has challenged all political parties which, for very long, have met young people’s legitimate ambitions and difficulties with hasty and improvised solutions and, in so doing, strongly contributed to the spreading of superficial slogans, abstract recipes and demagogic temptations.
Alcide De Gasperi – a politician whom I particularly admire – back in 1934 wrote: «Be yourselves, be optimistic», in his message to the members of the Association of Catholic University students. In that letter, he highlighted that the hardest thing for young people at that time was to «always be true to themselves».
I have mentioned this particular statement because I believe that this is the first question we need to answer: how can we help our youth to be true to themselves nowadays, at a time when an increasingly wide gulf separates dreams, wishes and ambitions from their actual fulfilment?
How can we support them in their commitment to better themselves and society, in their refusal to letting themselves be «swallowed by mediocrity» and in their wish to «do something great» with their lives, using the inspiring words John Paul II spoke in August 2000 during World Youth Day, talking directly to the «morning watchmen» at the dawn of the new millennium?
Young generations have been hit hard by the crisis: their economic and employment prospects for sure, but also their value systems, to the point of undermining the widespread generational solidarity that has always characterized our national identity.
Honesty, and not rhetoric, compels us to start from a simple fact: without the decisive contribution of younger generations, with their will and commitment, we will not be able to overcome the stumbling blocks that are still hindering our country’s development.
Therefore, one of the major questions of our time has to do with the policies that must be put in place, so that young people do not simply accept to live the present time with no prospects, but turn into active and dynamic players to build a better, fairer and more prosperous future. A future in which their expectations turn into vital energy and an instrument for their self-fulfillment.
The interpretation and analysis that the Toniolo Institute has contributed to, in the pages of its “Youth Report”, captures the essence of a situation that is made of ingenuity, excellence and creativity: all things our youth are marvelously endowed with. Laying solid foundations for new growth opportunities, and getting our country back in step with modern times, requires us to bet on their talent and conquering ability.
Of course, I cannot ignore the flip side of the coin: the disillusionment many young men and women feel when, after having «plunged into the pragmatism of economic hardship», they admit they are willing to leave Italy in order to fulfill their life ambitions. First of all, to find a job and become economically independent, start a family and have children, as their peers in other countries have already done.
If you leave your homeland because you are driven by the wish to do better, make new and positive experiences and open a window on the world, it is a great thing that might happen in a person’s life. However, if you are forced to leave because your country is not able to support your dreams, or provide actual prospects for you to fulfill your future vision, then it is a completely different story. The most unbearable of stories.
In order to reach out to young people, we must introduce effective and impactful investment policies for families, as our government has been doing: economic and legislative measures that are not episodic or piecemeal, nor merely limited to welfare, but inspired by ethical concerns and the awareness that, in order to deal with negative population growth, and bridge the gap between the children who are born and the ones we wish to have, structural measures are needed.
I believe that stimulating young people’s untapped potential and releasing their energy means, first of all, investing in cultural innovation strategies and the quality of our education system. For instance, by re-establishing a direct link between secondary schools and universities, aimed at better synergies with the labor market, in order to meet the real needs of society and businesses.
I am saying this, in front of the leaders of one of the most prominent institutions of Italian academia and culture, the University of the Sacred Heart: a model that is the envy of other countries for its ability to radiate new ideas and knowledge, for its vocation to play to the music of top-notch course offerings, for its propensity to empower young people as the makers of new things and bridges to understand the future.
Italian universities cannot and must not consider themselves excluded from the winds of change and transformation that are blowing through our societies. Actually, they should strengthen their role as innovation drivers, and be helped in doing so, in order to become increasingly better at capturing the opportunities that the global context brings, equip young people with the necessary theoretical and practical know-how to face the major challenges of complex modernity, and find their way through the arena of global competition.
Hence, the need for our education system to open up to the outside world, at a time of anachronistic rhetoric calling for new walls, to develop synergies and define cooperation strategies with other centers of knowledge production and transmission, also thinking about businesses’ current and future needs.
The internationalization of our university system - as a driver for change, innovation, creativity and employment – will be all the more successful if we are committed to “joining forces”, at long last acting like a national community. As far as contents are concerned, we are second to none in many subjects: from the humanities to science, as well as design, architecture, engineering and fashion.
In my capacity as Minister of Foreign Affairs, I must share with you the great enthusiasm with which my department has contributed to the definition of the Strategic Plan to promote our national higher education system in other countries, also by investing in economic diplomacy: this means involving the private sector and businesses that represent the excellence of our creative industry and, therefore, an important element of Italy’s cultural image.
All this is part of a strategic outlook that is aimed at multiplying job opportunities for our young people.
Of course, we need to do more: youth unemployment is still the main economic policy challenge, both in Italy and the rest of Europe. In order to face this challenge, Governments must stick to the path of structural reforms, which is the only way to unleash our economic systems’ growth potential in the medium term.
The European Union, also following Italy’s prodding, has given top priority to policies that promote training, entrepreneurship and employment access.
The European Union must do its share, by supporting States’ reform efforts and, especially, by focusing once again on the wellbeing of its population, and not only on the economy and finance.
This is what the appeal to build a social Europe means, as was stated in the Declaration of Rome of March 25. Only if the European Union goes back to being a project that is able to provide prospects and hopes for young people, will it really have a future.
I have faith in Europe, when it defines and shapes its identity by investing in a wonderful asset we have: the Erasmus generation. This means investing in the energy of our youth, who set ideas, interests, projects, dreams and visions in motion, by sharing their drive to conquer the world in a broad open space of peace, freedom and justice. And I have faith in Italian youth, in their wonderful ability to dream, invent, design, plan and build a better future, in order to fulfill our vision of Europe together.
Young people represent what Gaetano Martino, one of my distinguished predecessors, used to define as the «Europe of hopes»: which «promises to grow faster and in greater harmony than the Europe of the past; and will not disappoint the hopes of the majority of free individuals, who wish to preserve their freedom and multiply its fruits».
Thank you very much.