Prime minister Matteo Renzi kicked off Italy’s six-month spell in the rotating presidency of the European Union with a fresh call for action to boost economic growth in the 28-member bloc.
Renzi has led calls for Europe to move from budget austerity towards expansion but in his speech to the European Parliament in Strasbourg he repeated that Italy was a net contributor to the European Union budget and was not looking for “short cuts”.
He made only passing reference to the discussion at last week’s European Council in Brussels at which EU leaders agreed that countries which undertook structural reforms should be allowed more leeway on tight EU budget rules.
“Italy is not coming here to ask for change which it is not able to provide itself, Italy is coming here to say it wants to change,” he told the parliament. “The economic issue we are living though and the discussions we had in the last Council can’t be reduced to an issue of one country asking the others to change the rules. We were the first to say we will respect the rules.”
Renzi said the EU’s budget rules were based on “a pact called the Stability and Growth Pact. There’s stability but there’s also growth ... without growth, Europe has no future.”
After taking office at the head of a cross-party government in February, Renzi has pledged to reform Italy’s stagnant economy and overhaul its widely criticised system of politics and government administration. But he has still to complete any of the ambitious reform he has promised.
Peppering his speech with literary and cultural references from the Odyssey to Dante Alighieri and offering few specifics, he said Europe needed to find its identity and self confidence again after its years of crisis.
“If Europe took a selfie today, what would come out?” he asked, answering his own question by saying that the image would be one of tiredness and in some cases resignation. “If I had to sum it up, I’d say Europe would look bored.”