EU 'moving in the right direction' following Italian presidency

The economy, the upcoming Greek elections and Mediterranean rescue operations were under the spotlight in a review of Italy's presidency.

By James O'Brien

14 Jan 2015

The president of the European parliament Martin Schulz has heaped praise on Italy at the conclusion of what he called a "successful presidency".

In a joint press conference in Strasbourg with the Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi to mark the end of Italy's council presidency, Schulz acknowledged that Italy "undertook [the EU council presidency] in difficult circumstances and systemic change at European level".

Renzi praised his presidency's record in relation to efforts made to overcome the economic crisis, expressing confidence that Europe was now "moving in the right direction" and actions undertaken will "bear fruit in the coming months".

He said, "If steps taken in the past six months had been taken six years ago, then Europe would not be in recession now".

However, Renzi acknowledged some shortcomings as he reflected on Italy's term at the helm of the council.

Renzi noted that the European economy had "stagnated" over in the past year and described negotiations on the transatlantic trade and investment partnership (TTIP) as "on the backburner" as EU member states need to find a common position, especially regarding the contentious investor-state dispute settlement.

However, he was keen to emphasise that Italy played a constructive role in addressing the economic crisis saying "Italy has put money in, not taken it out" and Italian money was used to save banks in other member states.


Greek Elections
Schulz and Renzi were in agreement in relation to comments from senior German ministers on Greece's upcoming general election, to be held on 25 January.

The speculation that Greece could be on the verge of a eurozone exit and comments on the consequences of a potential Syriza victory, Schulz was insistent that the Greek people "must not the threatened by outsiders in Paris or Berlin".

"If steps taken in the past six months had been taken six years ago, then Europe would not be in recession now" - Matteo Renzi

He said such comments might be acceptable about football teams in the champion's league "but had no place in politics".

Renzi echoed Schulz's saying "no one can talk on behalf of a people about to vote".

He insisted the people of Greece must "have full freedom" to decide their future.


Mediterranean rescue operations
Schulz deemed criticism of Italy's termination of the Mare Nostrom operation as "unacceptable".

He added that while there are differing opinions on approaches and burden sharing in relation to migrants, Italy's rescue efforts were "an example to us all".

Mare Nostrom was a search and rescue operation initiated by the Italian government following the 2013 Lampedusa shipwreck in which 359 migrants died.

The year-long programme saw the Italian navy rescue more than 100,000 shipwrecked refugees and Amnesty International have warned that its replacement Triton "could have catastrophic and deadly consequences" because it "does not meet the needs of thousands of migrants and refugees".

The European parliament president also suggested Triton may be "insufficient" and called for "a Europe wide compromise for immigration" to prevent those fleeing conflicts "being pushed into the arms of illegal traffickers".

He called for the implementation of a policy that would allow for "temporary protection" for asylum seekers while conflict was ongoing in their home countries.

The Italian president added that he was "proud to belong to a country that intervenes to save lives".

The review of the presidency was somewhat overshadowed by news that Italy's president Giorgio Napolitano is to step down on health-grounds and ahead of a debate in which MEPs will scrutinise the priorities of Latvia's presidency.


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