In an unprecedented speech outlining his vision for Europe, Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi called for courageous leaders to work towards a United States of Europe.

"For my children’s future I dream, think and work for the United States of Europe,” Renzi said, speaking at the State of the Union in Florence, launching an appeal to convince European leaders to show "not in the cold language of technocracy, that a stronger and more cohesive Europe is the only solution to the solve the problems of our time.”

In outlining his vision, Renzi also mapped out the priorities for the Italian presidency of the EU, starting on the 1st of July.

Beginning with the European elections, which "for the first time" are set not as "a summation of election campaigns, but something broader", he warned against the specter of anti-European populism. All mainstream political forces should not be scared to talk out loud, and point to the different line-ups that those populist parties have in terms of history and culture, and the way they are united by the desire to destroy what we have built. “Populism will thrive on abstentionism,” Renzi said.

The only effective response, according to the prime minister, is to offer "an idea of ​​Europe that corresponds to an attractive adventure, rather than just a financial or economic exercise," showing that the EU "is not only a common past but a common destiny, to which it is impossible to escape."

Renzi has indicated his priorities for the Italian presidency: growth and employment as the founding values ​​of Europe, citizenship rights and openness to the world, not only in terms of trade and economic relations, but also in terms of values.

“We cannot call ourselves Europeans if, when we witness the pain of the world, we turn the other way," he said.

If it is true that the last period of European integration was dominated by the financial and economic crisis and the need to address these challenges, it is also true that some of the European rules must be changed.

And the change that Renzi has in mind is radical: "We need a light Europe, whereby the rules are simple and better shared.”

At the end of his speech, Renzi highlighted immigration as a top priority: "The economy of trade cannot close in fences and cause us to lose sight of the fundamental value of openness in the world, which calls for a redefinition of the concept of the borders, especially those in the Mediterranean.

"Is the Mediterranean an Italian or European border?” asked the prime minister. He said he agrees with the European Commissioner for Home Affairs, Cecilia Malmstroem, for whom asylum rights should be under European law and not just a national competence.

“No day in our presidency will pass without us showing the contrast between a Europe that affirms its values, and a Europe that could not practise them, when it denies the possibility to our brothers and sisters to be welcomed in all the EU," said Renzi.