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Address by Italy's President Giorgio Napolitano to the Joint Leadership Meeting chaired by Speaker Nancy Pelosi

Madam Speaker of the House,
Honorable Members of Congress,

Allow me to thank you most sincerely for offering me this opportunity for a debate with such an important gathering of representatives of the Congress of the United States. I have spent a great deal of my political life in Parliament, and in more recent years, in the European Parliament. For this reason, I deeply believe in the role of elected assemblies as pillars of our democracies. In this regard, the Congress of the United States sets a great example for the the entire free world.

Napolitano at Joint Leadership MeetingMy visit to Washington, upon President Obama’s invitation […], comes at a time when Europe is in the throes of monetary and financial turmoil, which appear to be an extension of the 2008 global crisis.

Thus, the message I would like to convey on Italy’s behalf, is on one hand the unwavering support of my Country for a renewed and convinced assertion of the transatlantic relation, and on the other hand of the strong vitality of the project of European unity and integration.

We will be able to face the complexities of the issues in front of us, of today’s challenges, of the present threats, only through a growing participation of all major international actors in a spirit of shared responsibility. We must do that above all, by keeping alive and fostering the European and United States joint commitment in every possible field of endeavor, for the benefit of world’s stability. This is the belief, this is the conviction, which costantly inspires every Italian.

There is no need to recall the deep and ancient bonds of friendship that connect the Italian and the American peoples. Up until the first half of last century, the United States welcomed millions of Italian immigrants. While we recognize their hardships and sacrifices, through which they were able to contribute to the greatness of this land of which they became worthy citizens and in many cases prominent representatives, at the same time we express our unmovable gratitude for the embrace that your Country provided to the first Italians, allowing them to integrate and prosper.

Thousands of young Italians are now actively engaged in the United States, many of them researchers in significant studies. Our culture and our language are, more than ever, part of that general affinity and widespread collaboration which make our relationship so intense and so rich. Our gratitude and friendship towards the United States is also deeply enshrined in the memories of the role played by your soldiers, and in the huge toll in human lives, in the liberation of our Country and the whole of Europe from the oppression of Nazi rule. If I may be allowed a personal note, I cannot forget either the close and warm relationship that grew up between the local population and the American troops who stayed on in the city of Naples after they liberated  it on  October 1st, 1943 and who shared in the terrible humanitarian conditions which the war had brought about.

History, national and personal feelings aside, it is the world of today which leads us to say: be wary, let us take good care of transatlantic relations, let us strengthen and advance them. For they continue to be of essential importance today, even as our world has changed and is changing day by day, even though the center of gravity of international affairs tends to shift away from Europe. The 60-years long experience of the Atlantic Alliance, its power and vitality; the patrimony of intertwining relations between Europe and the United States in addition to the common endeavour within NATO; and, last but not least, the extraordinary legacy of shared democratic, human, cultural and religious values that your Country has embodied so powerfully: these are invaluable resources, that we must nurture because they foster our unity in facing the issues of our times. I do not believe that it can be said, in all earnestness, that transatlantic relations are progressively less significant: they continue, on the contrary, to be crucial for our destinies.

Logically, for transatlantic relations to work to their fullest Europe has to do its part. By  Europe I don’t mean “a collection of Nation-States”, but I refer to a united political body, the Union of twenty-seven Member States born from a Community of six countries, including Italy, founded at the beginning of the 1950s. The question that I ask myself, in all frankness, in front of you here is: is the European Union today up to its potential and able to fully shoulder its responsibilities? My answer is that it can do much more and much better, if we strengthen our unity and our integration. The most recent developments are there to prove it. 

The Euro, the great creation of the single European currency, is not collapsing; those who speak of the end of the Euro make a superficial, unfounded statement, expressing a penchant for catastrophic prophecies or, perhaps at times, a wishful thinking. Europe is living through a crisis which, starting from the extreme case of Greece, has swept the whole Eurozone. However, it is also increasingly committed to overcoming this difficult phase and restart. It is true that faced with the emergency, the European Union found itself without any valid instruments or suitable tools to prevent such a crisis: it also hesitated to adopt extraordinary measures to prevent Greece’s public debt insolvency and stop the risk of contagion, the speculative attack on the Euro as such. Yet, at last strong measures were adopted by governments and by European’s institutions, flanked and supported by the European Central Bank’s bold decision and the important contribution by the International Monetary Fund.

I will not attempt to hide the significant problems which are still pending. The Economic and Monetary Union has shown its flaws, and must be strengthened. This can be done by concretely creating a European crisis mechanism and management fund, by preventing sudden and acute emergencies through a more effective control of budgets, via Eurostat’s tighter control on the elaboration of individual states’ public finance data, with the creation of an European Rating Agency and the institution of a board for systemic risks and prudential macro supervision. By following this path, the European Union will also contribute to the new world financial system framework which the United States, the G20 and the Financial Stability Board are all working on.

It is essential to consolidate the European Growth and Stability Pact, and the “culture of stability” itself. To block the escalation of public debt and of State sovereign debt, doing at the same time everything possible to promote the expansion of the European economy, avoiding risks of deflation, and to contribute positively to the re-launching of the world economy after the 2008-2009 fall.

In order to achieve this complex and difficult multi-faceted goal and to play a relevant role in today’s world in harmony with the globalization process and the emergence of new national and continental entities, Europe must make a decisive leap forward on the path towards integration. If effective solutions were delayed in the management of the Greek crisis, it is because some Member States were reluctant and hesitant to implement common mechanisms and grant more powers to European institutions. 

The imbalances which ensued – diverging trends not only of budget policies but of national economic ones too – are the consequences of the fact that too many national leaderships have resisted, over the last ten years, the accomplishment of an effective and meaningful coordination at the European level; resisting also the idea of enlarging the area of common policies, conferring suitable powers to European institutions and more consistent assets to the European budget.

This is a crucial moment in the European path for integration: either we follow this direction, or Europe risks a grave diminution of its role, if not mere irrelevance. It is only by speaking with one voice and by pursuing a common foreign and security policy that Europe can preserve its relevance in international politics. It is only by pooling its resources and defense structures, by overcoming absurd duplications and watertight compartments between national States, that Europe will be able to increase the productivity of its military expenditure and take on its responsibilities for our collective security.

As a matter of fact, the time has come for all to recognize that no single European State, not even the strongest, those richest in history and even imperial traditions, nor even the more advanced economically; none of the above will be able to matter individually on the international scene as they did in the past, if not by contributing to build a more united, integrated, efficient and dynamic Europe.

To talk about the United States of Europe is an excessive simplification. To federate Nation States such as those built over the course of centuries in Europe, and which in some cases became powerful empires, is an intricate task which, in fact, has only ever been enunciated only in theory since the creation of the very first Community, that of Coal and Steel. Instead, we conceived a European entity based on a partial limitation of national sovereignty and on the exercise of shared quotas of sovereign power by an institution representing National States – the European Council – and by supranational institutions: the Commission and the Parliament.

This original combination, defined as a “Federation of Nation States” or a “Union of States and Peoples” has proved to be vital, albeit it has had many ups and downs. The institutional balance of this body, called the European Union, must now decidedly move in favor of its supranational components, and of the community method. To that end, we must deploy all the potential embedded in the institutional innovations set out by the Lisbon Treaty. The recourse to selfish nationalisms, to presumptions of self-sufficiency or of national hegemony would be fatal for Europe’s destiny.

The “European dream”, the dream of a united Europe, able to overcome narrow and nowadays anachronistic conceptions – is not over, is not defeated, and is not destined to end in oblivion. Its force lies in the fact that the dream has become a necessity; from far-sighted plan it has translated into an absolute imperative given our present conditions and our future prospects.

It is important, it is vital, that Europe be pushed from the other side of the Atlantic. That from the great friend and Ally which is America arrives a potent encouragement to continue on the path towards unity and integration, with growing consistency and effectiveness. You are right to ask us to speak with one voice, to speak as the European Union, as a coherent and reliable interlocutor, one which is ready to take on its responsibility on the world scene.

Italy was among the most convinced founders of the European Community and one of the strongest and most consistent supporters of the integration process. Indeed, during the Greek crisis, Italy took a clear stance in favor of a joint European commitment and used all its influence so that the European Council could reach such an agreement. At the same time, in the past few years and in the current phase, we are showing full awareness of the need of a serious effort to block and reduce our public debt, which is regrettably considerable both in absolute and percentage terms in relation to our Gross Domestic Product (118.2 percent) and must, from 2010, start a descending curve. However, it must be noted that the Italian situation is very different from that of other heavily-indebted countries, not only because over half the government bonds belong to Italians, but because Italy has a much lower household and corporate debt compared to that of most other countries, lower also than the European average.

Along with these, other positive aspects for Italy are the signs of economic recovery and, in particular, the strong growth of exports compared to last year.

Finally, Italy is actively involved in contributing to the development of the European Union’s presence on the international scene and to its foreign and common defense policies. We add to this goal also by using our long-standing friendship with Arab countries, directing our efforts to supporting the Middle East Peace Process whilst respecting the right of the State of Israel to live in safety. Through our Governmental and parliamentary decisions, Majority and Minority, we contribute in supporting Europe’s international presence with the participation of Italian Armed Forces – currently numbering about 8000 - to UN, NATO and EU operations in crises areas, particularly in the fight against terrorism. In this endeavour we are side by side with the American Forces, whom so much of the sacrifice and weight of this joint fight falls upon.

Madam Speaker, Ladies and Gentlemen, in the name of the democratic institutions and of the people whom I have the honor to represent in their entirety, allow me to renew the sentiments of Italy’s loyal commitment to facing its problems and to fully assuming its responsibilities. A country which looks to a united Europe, to America – a trusted and reliable friend, to the transatlantic alliance and, in the context of a new and coherent multilateralism, to the international community, as its intrinsic, and fundamentals, points of reference.


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