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Address by the President of the Republic, Sergio Mattarella, at the Opening of the Conference “The State of the Union 2018, Solidarity in Europe (10 May 2018)

Mister President of Ireland,

Mister President of the European University Institute,

Distinguished Dignitaries,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Today, to speak of the union of Europe is a challenge in and of itself.

In this troubled world, regardless of how essential the balancing role of a union of 27 Countries would appear to be, we nonetheless see a yawning gap between what is and what should be an extended community that already finds its dimension in a common space. Therefore, never has “united” appeared to be as urgent as it does now.

Yet, a large part of the continent’s public opinion appears to be swept by a feeling of disillusionment, oblivious of the meaning and the result of a prized and positive process towards a goal that inspired the spirit of youths formed in the 1900s. This lack of awareness lays outside the vision of history.

I am grateful to President Dehousse for the invitation extended to me to take part in the Eighth Conference on the State of the Union.

It is an event that has become important thanks to the commitment of the European University Institute, its researchers and its management, enabling us to hold, every year, a serious and in-depth public debate with guests of exceptional standing.

Italy is proud that Florence is the one to host the European University Institute which, for more than four decades, has contributed to exploring the academic and cultural dimension of the European integration process, with a focus that is not only concentrated on the past, because it houses the first European School of Transnational Governance, which is called on to provide training in thematic areas that can only be addressed through coordinated multilateral efforts.

Today’s Conference falls within the framework of the meetings that mark “Europe’s birthdate”: the commemoration of the Schuman Declaration, which engendered that fruitful continental integration process that we are contributing to celebrate here today.

Those roots are still strong and thriving today and the modernity of the words uttered by the great French statesman on that 9th of May 1950 was evident from the outset: “World peace cannot be safeguarded without the making of creative efforts proportionate to the dangers which threaten it.”

A courageous warning from someone who had understood the entity of the trials facing Europe and, at the same time, had pondered over the keys to overcome them: solidarity and historic vision.

“Europe will not be made all at once” he wrote “or according to a single plan. It will be built through concrete achievements which first create a de facto solidarity.”

The force of these words has spanned across the history of the last seventy years before reaching us, to tell us how this message was already central to the birth of the Union.

Not solidarity in abstract terms, enshrined in the lifeless words of a Treaty, but living substance within the process that was being courageously undertaken.

If it was solidarity that generated the beginning of our Union, it is not senseless to go back to those almost primordial ties in order to tackle today’s problems.

All the more so in a context witnessing internal and international crises, widespread instability and the winds of war rocking the building of Europe, making any further step towards greater integration hesitant.

Indeed, the assertive solidarity of the beginning seems to have converted into stagnating indifference, a seeping mistrust pervading all levels and turning all public opinions, Governments, and common Institutions to be increasingly and mutually distrusting.

We cannot ignore this state of affairs nor can we hush the fact that, among European citizens, there is a spreading conviction that our common project has lost its capacity to effectively meet the growing expectations of large segments of the population; and that it can no longer assure adequate protection, security, work, and growth to single individuals and to communities at large.

With a peculiar contradiction that sees the simultaneous inflating of citizens’ expectations and their scepticism on Europe’s capacity to meet them.

Numerous European fellow-citizens have stopped thinking that Europe can – now or at a later point in time – solve their problems. They decreasingly see Brussels as an advantageous interlocutor, withdrawing within a purely domestic horizon, feeding upon an illusion: the thought that the most impacting global phenomena can be tackled at national level.

It is a paradoxical situation if we think that, thanks to integration, more than three generations in a row have not known the drama of war that has and continues to encroach around the borders of the Union. Suffice it to think of the Balkans of a few years ago, of the Ukrainian crisis, of the conflicts in North Africa and in the Middle East.

Everyone knows that none of the big challenges facing our continent today can be tackled by any single member Country of the Union, no matter how large it may be.

Not the challenges represented by the tension at our northern and southern borders, nor the instability produced by sudden and unexpected measures that risk triggering trade wars to the detriment of all. Nor those connected to energy supplies, climate change, the digital revolution, economic inequalities, the fight against terrorism and the increasingly subtle and insidious phenomena of organised crime and epochal migration flows.

The security and progress of any society are grounded on the principle of mutuality among its members. This is the sense of solidarity: knowing you can count on the help of your neighbour when your strength falls short.

Well now, millions of people are escaping their place of origin; we are faced with an organised crime so extended that their income exceeds the GDP of many States and a terrorist threat that spreads like a lightning bolt through the Web, irrespective of any border.

In the face of all this, to think that it is possible to make it on one’s own is a pure illusion or, worse, the conscious deceit of public opinions.

Out of the continent’s frame of reference, the irrelevance of the policies of single European Countries would immediately become apparent.

In terms of affirming their effective sovereignty over the rights and liberties of their citizens and over the context of security within which to organise their own lives.

In terms of adequately governing “European borders”, effectively and with humanity.

In terms of asserting our sovereignty over food and digital networks and in the management of “big data”.

The answer to all these difficult tests is one and one only: the European Union.

Mister President,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Our founding fathers – De Gasperi, Schuman, Adenauer, Monnet, Spaak, and others – were united by the solidarity that arose from a common task: re-founding their communities, destroyed by the horror of the Nazi-Fascist war.

Their task was self-explanatory. Europe had to get back on track after the season of darkness under the dictatorships.

Two devastating wars and millions of victims had made it very clear to every single citizen that it was necessary to surrender the defence of peace and even of individual and collective freedoms to the decision of giving Europeans a common future, that would afford a higher level of protection than could be offered by single States.

A double protection built on facts in these past decades, bringing us to a European citizenship and the Treaty of Lisbon.

In 1948 there was no possibility of misunderstandings in a world torn by war and in which the logic of blocs was already starting to prevail.

Defending the achievements that represented and continue to represent the biggest legacy of our history – liberty, the Rule of Law, respect for individual and collective rights, the “European” economic model based on free enterprise and a wide range of protections for workers – strongly urged the progressive integration of the Countries that make up our Continent.

Over borders and national traditions prevailed the unifying values that had brought the peoples, through solidarity, to fight united to affirm their refusal of the idea of being mere subjects or the blind mechanisms of a war machine, and to instead confirm that they were alert, with their human dignity unscathed, and that no State would ever be able to abuse unabashedly. This is the authentic solidarity built among the people.

A solidarity that wanted to definitively leave behind the arithmetic of the rights and wrongs of two devastating world wars.

This vision, actively shared and participated by the citizens, has taken us a long way.

We have now come to a crucial point in our integration process, one in which the citizenship rights expressed up to now under the sovereignty of individual States are increasingly transposed into the collective sovereignty of the Union, merging into an irreversible unicum.

We have a currency capable of constituting a tangible international point of reference, a role that no national currency could ever have.

We have finally gone back to working concretely on common defence and foreign policies consistent with the needs of our Countries, in a phase recording a patently weaker commitment of our major transatlantic ally and the unchained offensive of terrorism.

We are pursuing a policy of independence and quality in our energy supplies that will make Europe less dependent on single suppliers.

We want to affirm environmental rules that meet the highest possible international standards, in order to protect the health of our citizens and the future of the planet.

All this around an integrated market of goods, services and capital that has made our peoples more prosperous.

Safer now than after the war, freer than after the war, better off than after the war, we now risk appearing to lack all determination in facing up to the challenges. And, along a road that has become arduous and demanding, some surrender to the temptation of seeking 19th century formulas to solve the problems of the 21st century.

It would be sufficient to cover a little more ground in order to harbour the whole European construction against these threats but – let us be honest – it would take even less to undermine its foundations.

What have we overlooked? Why does the drive seem to be exhausted? Why is the concept of solidarity so easily disavowed in the facts, often by those who are, or were, the very first beneficiaries of other people’s solidarity?

Perhaps we are not sufficiently aware of how the “others”, the “extra-Europeans”, unlike some among us, increasingly see and perceive us as Europe and no longer as single and distinct realities. Perhaps we forget that Europe and its civilization, in its wealth of diversity, cannot be reduced to the dimension of a single Country or a group of Countries. We could describe the Union with the words of French historian Ernest Renan who questioned himself on the definition of a Nation. He answered: “a Nation is a soul, a spiritual principle…a great solidarity…a legacy…it is a daily plebiscite.”

And we have no intention of losing this European plebiscite!

So, what has failed us, despite the valuable work done, is our self-consciousness.

Perhaps, with the passing of years, we have – with blameworthy superficiality – taken for granted that new generations, the new ruling classes, would go on perceiving with equal strength the quality of the “European” model and the key role that solidarity plays in it, as the remembrance of the terrible losses of the past fade from out collective memory.

Perhaps it is not sufficiently clear to us that everything that we have built, the progress arduously and patiently made during these years, can be logically and coherently contextualised only if it is part of our common model of society.

A society based on awarding mutual protection to an area governed by the Rule of Law and in which all the citizens are equal before the law. A peaceful, free, open and respectful society wanting to interact in a system of international relations grounded on dialogue with all major international players.

This – without leaving out any of its components – is the model of liberal democracy in which we have invited to participate the Countries that, for many years, the division in blocs had excluded from the discourse of integration. This is the model of society that we propose when we speak of enlargement and neighbourhood policies and that we hope will also increasingly take root outside our Continent.

Mister President,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is evident that Europe needs to know how to tend to today’s problems with the strength of its roots and the ideals of its history.

This is the key responsibility of the political leaders of all European countries. Too often – and for too many years – Europe, in a superficial narrative generally shared by all the member Countries, was represented as a bureaucratic, complex and scarcely intelligible entity to be held accountable for unpopular measures and for depriving local communities of their traditions and customs in the name of integration.

In actual fact the decisions – including the arguable ones, of which we saw a few – have always been the fruit of democratic debate among governments within the European Council, in concert with the European Parliament.

No doubt, the introduction of certain measures and the passing of certain policies should and could have been more mindful of specific national problems and sensitivities and focus more on social cohesion objectives than on fiscal consolidation.

However, it is precisely the primary responsibility of national ruling classes to know how to illustrate how the integration of a single sector specifically meets the principle of solidarity, a forward-looking logic, a “strong design” in which peace, wellbeing and prosperity arise from abandoning single sectoral advantages in order to share more important ones and to undertake a common virtuous path in which everyone can be a player.

It is an action to be taken without delay: European Institutions and member States should well devote more of their efforts to the capillary and lasting dissemination of the “deep-rooted reasons” of Europe.

An effort to be made by schools, starting in primary classes, and continued through the school curriculum into University, where the Erasmus – and other youth mobility programmes – already perform a very important role.

The possibility of boosting this potential, supported by the development of full-fledged European Universities, should be promptly explored.

This is the point from which we should start in order to rediscover Europe as a “big design”, avoiding the dominance of futureless particularisms and a sovereignist narrative with ready-made solutions that are as appealing as they are impracticable, however certain of being able to blame their impracticability on the Union.

However, the rediscovery of a “big design” cannot only be a short-term “response” to the short-sightedness of these views.

It must firstly enable us to rekindle the vital lymph of the European construction, the deep consensus, the solidarity among peoples, Countries and Institutions, allowing us to give new impetus to the integration process in order to produce new and long-lasting collective advantages in line with the contents of the Declaration of Rome ratified a little more than a year ago.

It is from this text, which all Union members signed, that we must start anew. Without more integration there will be no national benefits but only the greater irrelevance of single Countries in the face of the rest of the world, which is growing at a frantic speed and in which actors, once marginal, gain positions of great relevance.

Mister President,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I think it opportune to mention another circumstance that has contributed to tarnishing the image of Europe in the eyes of public opinion.

The emphasis recently (ever since Maastricht) and unconditionally placed on the exclusively economic aspects of integration – albeit consistently with the development process and the heralding of fruitful results – has probably contributed to enhancing a negative “narrative”.

The narrative of a distant Europe, described in almost caricatural terms as the Europe of banks and bankers, engrossed in a construction detached from the sensitivities and the needs of the European people, in which, among other things, the elements of an albeit correct and necessary rigour were not counter-balanced with elements capable of shedding light on the effectiveness of its actions in many other areas.

The Ventotene Manifesto – a cultural point of reference not to be forgotten – continues to remind us that the economy must be part of a political vision of the integration process. Indeed, market regulations, currency legislation and competition rules cannot but be conceived as being functional and instrumental to liberty and growth and to the pursuit of a general policy objective, namely that of improving the general wellbeing of society, and not as an end in its own right.

The great progress made in the economy, currency and finance, which is prized and important, must be consistently accompanied by the parallel development of a social pillar, so as to make it evident to the European public opinion that they are instrumental to achieving the “big design”.

We need to take note of the contribution made by relevant EU institutions, such as the European Central Bank, with its wise policy to ease economic recovery.

Even if its mandate, unlike that of national central banks, only entails the task of carefully managing monetary stability, it would be arbitrary not to recognise its important role.

And what does managing our common currency mean if not the expression of a strong solidarity between the Countries of the Eurozone, setting a tangible example for all the other Countries?

It is the concentric circle type of solidarity that leaves no one behind and, on the contrary, leaves its doors open while jointly respecting the ambitions of those who want to progress, and the pace of those who think that they are not yet ready to make stringent decisions.

It is the mutualization of the principles of the free movement of people, goods and services, that was later extended to the currency and now involves the principles of the Rule of Law and the administration of justice as well as defence and foreign policies and must increasingly stretch to include culture and education. It is the solidarity that, through the experience of the European development and cohesion Funds, has made us jointly shoulder the problem of inequalities and disadvantaged territorial areas, in order to offset their effects.

Mister President,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Europe’s sophisticated architecture needs continuous and careful maintenance in order to keep the Institutions sound and pervaded with the spirit of solidarity that inspired the founding fathers and make them aware of the trials lying ahead.

The quick-paced unfolding of events, both within single Countries and in international relations, is in fact fraught with challenges: our capacity to meet them will decide our future.

We are witnessing crises that are relentlessly encroaching around our borders: how can we avoid that our societies, our liberty and our wellbeing be put under siege without endowing the Union with instruments to express unitary positions in order to stand up for the principles that inspired its existence and for the political weight of its economy?

We must extend the area of stability and shared principles while, instead, we are making hesitant progress towards the integration of the Western Balkans, where the European perspective appears to be the only option to ward off dangerous returns to the past and the creation of external spheres of influence, a source of instability for the whole Union because based on value systems radically different from ours.

Solidarity in the area of security and military integration cannot be disjoined from civil and political solidarity objectives.

I hope that courageous and forward-looking decisions will also be taken on this issue, both in Brussels and in the Countries of the area.

In the Union, key dossiers have long been waiting to be resolutely addressed, the first of which are the reform of the Dublin system and the banking union.

These issues are key for our future and, in addition, will not be satisfactorily solved – in fact they will continue to be shelved – unless they are addressed in a framework of renewed solidarity, in which re-establishing sovereignty at European level is perceived as an obvious necessity, part of a comprehensive design which will ultimately increasingly benefit all those involved.

It is a “win-win” logic that must prevail over the logic of winners and losers on the single dossiers before the Union: this logic cannot be part of the Union’s heritage of ideas.

Lastly, we will have to face managing a common budget: it is an issue that will be the tangible yardstick of the level of the Union’s ambition liable to spread over the next seven years.

We strongly hope that, despite Brexit, the common budget may expand, also thanks to our own greater resources.

We must single out and focus our policies on the “European public goods”, which we need to protect and develop: for example, internal and external security, defence, the environment, economic convergence among member States to boost employment by developing, in actual practice, the solid “social pillar” indicated in the Gothenburg Summit.

Solidarity is built through interconnections and interdependence: infrastructure and transport networks; energy and TLC networks; education, university and research networks; technological innovation programmes and networks (e.g. Galileo).

Italy has made an effort to take a balanced stand on these issues, within a greater effort to strengthen the ties of solidarity among member Countries and to consolidate the roles of the European Commission and Parliament, an effort we have no intention of abandoning.

Mister President,

Allow me to conclude my speech by quoting Stefan Zweig, a sophisticated Austrian writer who, as World War I was raging, wrote: “The great monument to the spiritual unity of Europe is in ruins, the builders have dispersed. Still standing are its battlements, still erect above the bewildered world and its invisible codes, that however, without a persisting common maintenance effort, will fall into oblivion.”

Still now, these words sound as a warning. And it is up to us, us alone, to follow up on it.