Europe must find its 'soul', Renzi tells MEPs

Matteo Renzi explained why Europe is so much more than its economic values as he marked the opening of the Italian EU council presidency.

By Kayleigh Rose Lewis

04 Jul 2014

Italy's prime minister emphasised the importance of resolving Europe's financial difficulties, but also in finding its "identity", as he discussed his country's direction as it takes the helm of the council's six month rotating presidency.

"What is the debate on European politics like today, after this crisis we've all lived through and in this political crisis that we're all living through?" Questioned Renzi, when addressing the Strasbourg plenary on Wednesday.

"Let me put it this way," he continued, "If Europe were to take a selfie today, what would the picture be like? I can see it, and I'm concerned about it.

"What we would see is a face that was tired, resigned in some cases. And if I had to sum it all up, I would say Europe's selfie would be a bored selfie. Which is understandable".

In explaining the passing of the council presidency 'baton' between Greece and Italy, Renzi said that there could be so much that was positive to be said about the process, but instead people think "about financial difficulties, about financial architecture because we have a very deep wound that has been left in us all by the recent short-term economic difficulties".

"The real challenge that our continent faces is… to find Europe's soul again, get back to the real meaning of our being here together"

The Italian prime minister clarified that he doesn't think that the financial questions should be "underestimated", that there is indeed a "major economic and financial issue" in Europe and that he would be acting "in a very convinced and decisive way about them".

"But," he continued, "Italy's view is that the great challenge of this European six months is not just a matter of a list of meetings, which I hope will happen and I hope will be attended by members of the European parliament.

"The real challenge that our continent faces is… to find Europe's soul again, get back to the real meaning of our being here together. Because if we want to talk about bureaucracy, we've got plenty of that already in Italy, we don't need any more.

"Either we get a profound identity that we recover together or we will miss the challenge that faces us," he urged.

Speaking about Italy's contribution to the European institutions, Renzi said, "I represent here, a founding country of the European Union, one that every year continues to make an important contribution to the institutions.

"We are among those who contribute most, who contribute more than we take out, and we're happy about that and we're proud of it, because the most important value is not the economic value.

He went on, "I also have to say that I am one of a considerable number of leaders of a political party that got the most votes in the elections.

"And we got votes not by blaming the crisis on Europe, we said that the problems in Italy come from Italy, we told the truth.

"We said that we have to carry through our reforms that we have to deal with bureaucracy and the legal system, and the tax issues, we have to change the institutions.

According to Renzi, the Italian senate are working on a constitutional reform to vote on in committee which will change the "rules of the game" in Italy.

"So," he said, "We know that before we ask for anything else we have to call on ourselves for the force to change if we want to be credible."

"We're not coming here to ask Europe for the changes that we can't carry out ourselves," he said, adding, "We've come here to tell you that we believe in the European institutions, and we believe in our own changes that we shall make."

He said that Italy had come to the European institutions "not to beg for something but to offer something".

"We've got stability, but there's growth in there as well, and what we're asking for now is to have growth as a fundamental element of European policy"

"So it's clear, the economic issue, the economic crisis, and the debate at the last council, can't be reduced to a few countries asking the others to change the rules. We were the first ones to say we want to respect the rules, we don't want to change the rules.

"What we do say, however, is that you respect the rules by remembering that we all, our predecessors, signed together a stability and growth pact.

"We've got stability, but there's growth in there as well, and what we're asking for now is to have growth as a fundamental element of European policy," he told parliamentarians.

"That's not just for the benefit of one country, Italy, it's for Europe. Without growth Europe has no future. It's not one single country's problem," Renzi stressed.

He said that Italy would not be "offering any judgements on the past, we don't want to judge the past, we want to judge the future."

"Our presidency is going to be one during which we are not going to be afraid to say that politics has a dignity, and in that dignity we can find the profound meaning of our being here. This isn't an Italy asking for shortcuts, we are an Italy offering with courage our own preparedness to do our part," he concluded.

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