On Wednesday, Italy took over the presidency of the EU, taken up in turn every six months by a member state. PM Matteo Renzi opened the Italian semester with a speech in Brussels.
Renzi’s speech did not focus on the programmatic issues that Italy wants to work on during its presidency. The programme, he said, was printed and he would offer it to the council so that he wouldn’t have to go through it during his speech. Instead, Renzi gave a speech meant to be inspirational, because, while financial and economic issues mattered a lot to Italy, he wants this semester to be about more than finance.
Renzi addressing the European Parliament
Renzi opened by stating that “If Europe took a selfie today, it would show a face of tiredness, of resignation. In one word, a face of boredom”.
He continued by stating that when we think of the EU, all that comes to mind is the spread and the financial crisis. Because of this, “the real challenge our continent is facing today is the need to find again Europe’s soul, the deep meaning of being together”. He added that there is no point in unifying only our bureaucracies, because in that case “we Italians have enough of our own bureaucracy”.
He then mentioned the “Stability and Growth Pact” in the most controversial passage of his speech, claiming that on top of stability there must be growth as that is fundamental for the EU as a whole.
In his speech, Renzi also urged the UK not to leave the EU because “Europe without the UK would be less rich, less Europe, less itself”.
He also said that Europe is physically a frontier, and he reminded the problem of migrants from North Africa, a real challenge for Italy these days. He added that he hopes that the EU will be seen not only as a place of investments and wealth, but in light of its human dimension, because Europe represents “a lighthouse of civilization” and we should be proud of this.
Renzi closed his speech by stating that we are a “Telemachus Generation”, referring to Ulysses’s son who spent years trying to find out where his father was and looking for him before he went back to Ithaca. Renzi said that we need to deserve the legacy of our fathers, seen not as gift but as a conquest to renew every day.
Inspirational as it was, Renzi’s speech has attracted various, legitimate criticisms claiming that he was just speaking empty words rather than focusing on facts, for his choice of not discussing the programme. Also, his insistence on the importance of growth caused the German Bundesbank to state that accumulating debt does not create growth. This point is likely to lead to huge disagreements between Italy and Germany, and while today the Italian Minister of Economy Padoan stated that “Everything is ok with Germany”, new arguments are certainly ahead of us.
Some bits of the speech: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7fxze6FglKA