As Italy took over the rotating presidency of the EU for the next six months, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi outlined his vision for the future of the Union and urged Europe 'to find its soul again'.
"The real big challenge awaiting our continent is to find back the soul of Europe, find back the real meaning of living together. Because if Europe is only about bureaucracy unification, I can ensure that, as Italians, we've enough with our own!" said Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.
Center-left Renzi called for more fiscal flexibility and a shift to growth, in a passionate speech that received a standing ovation in the European Parliament on Wednesday.
"We're not asking to change the rules. But please keep in mind that will be respecting the rules the one who recalls that we've all signed together, our predecessors have signed, a pact called Pact of Stability and Growth. Stability is required, but Growth must be there too. The demand to have growth as a pillar of the European economic policy is not put only by one country, is necessary for all Europe, not just Italy!" Renzi added.
But it wasn’t all applause. Some MEPs also criticized Renzi's speech, urging the young Italian leader to focus on implementing the Stability pact. Italy has public debt of over 135% of GDP and an unemployment rate of 12.6%.
"We are hearing from the Social Democrats we should be more flexible, we need to have a new interpretation or re-think it all, now I am saying this is the wrong path, we have to act on the lessons that we have learnt , we have to implement seriously , that is the only way out of the crisis.sustainable budgetary policy and let me ask the Prime Minister of Italy . With a debt of 130% of GDP, where is the money supposed to come from. You said you want to leave opportunity to your children , not debts." said German EPP Chair Manfred Weber.
Italy took over the presidency of the EU on July 1st. The last time that Italy led the Council was in 2003, under Berlusconi's center-right government.