Renzi scolds EU: “A good pupil who does not work hard enough”

Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi has launched a call for action to EU leaders saying that the world needed a strong Europe, able to move beyond crisis and sculpt its own vision for the future.

Speaking on Friday (8 May) at the State of the Union conference in Florence, Renzi said that Europe needed to upgrade the dream of an entire generation.

“We need to thank the founding fathers of Europe but at the same time we must recover the spirit they had and build a different future. The world needs Europe and Europe must stop running after crisis situations but rather have the courage to believe in its ideals,” he said.

Recapping a year’s worth of emergencies – including the financial crisis, migration, geopolitical crisis in Ukraine and the Ebola health alert – Europe is giving the impression that it manages crises ‘but does not have a strategy.’

“We have all it takes to get that train moving and get people to believe in the European project, a project built on solid cultural and scientific foundations,” he insisted.

Wake-up call

He called for reflection on the 15 years since the adoption of the Lisbon strategy, devised in 2000, which aimed to create the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world capable of sustainable economic growth with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion by 2010.

Instead, today we have a Europe that is growing less fast. “If you look at other countries, like the US they managed to reduce unemployment and increase GDP since 2008, while in Europe there is an increase of unemployment and lower GDP,” he added.

“There are incredible areas where the Union could act and yet we don’t manage to tap the full potential which is in front of us,” he added, recalling that a year ago he stood alone with Malta as the only heads of state calling for more flexibility.

A year later, we are not talking about stability and growth pact, we have the word flexibility included in Commission communications and all the appropriate tools are being implemented, including quantitative easing by the European Central Bank and a €315 billion investment plan, he said.

“But this is not sufficient. Europe is that very talented pupil that does not work hard enough,” he insisted.

Working harder starts with mea culpa

In the days and weeks that have elapsed since the tragedies in the Mediterranean, Renzi believes EU leaders are starting to be more focused on the reasons that keep 28 countries together.

“Europe is a continent that provides oxygen to other countries with its values and ideals, which is to feed the souls of the world,” he stressed.

Pointing at the sad exercise done by many EU leaders blaming Europe for their political lack of vision, Renzi acknowledged Italy’s own shortcomings.

“Very often Europe was perceived as the problem in many countries. We said that Europe was not the root of the Italian problems, but that it was Italy lacked strength,” he said, noting that if Rome had reformed the Italian economy in 2004, as Germany did, the situation would be different today.

Hinting at the electoral overhaul adopted earlier this week, Renzi said “it was not to keep the markets happy, but for our children.”

The electoral reform, which becomes law after more than a year of discussion in both chambers of parliament, is a central part of Renzi’s political and economic reform agenda.

“Italy is not any longer the sick man of Europe but is capable to bring that creativity and drive that is needed in Europe,” he said. “The world needs more passion, culture and innovation. In other words the world needs more Europe.”

Last but not least: TTIP

He also warned that failing to close the deal for a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership would be a disaster for Europe.

“It’s not possible that the United States of America is closing agreements with the Far East [referring to the Trans-Pacific Partnership-TPP], and Europe is hesitating and stuttering over TTIP,” he said.

“Failing to close the deal by the end of the year — and this will be the last chance because of the US elections next year —we would shoot ourselves in the foot,” he said.

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