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Remarks by President Barroso following the meeting of the European Commission with the Italian Presidency of the European Union

European Commission - SPEECH/14/530   04/07/2014

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European Commission

[Check Against Delivery]

José Manuel Durão Barroso

President of the European Commission

Remarks by President Barroso following the meeting of the European Commission with the Italian Presidency of the European Union

Press conference

Rome, 4 July 2014

Grazie, thank you very much.

It's indeed a pleasure to be here today in Italy. I would like to thank Prime Minister Renzi and his government for the great hospitality - it's really great to be here in Palazzo Madama the – and also for the professionalism with which Italian presidency have prepared this semester.

Since you were so kind to mention my experience in Florence, let me make a point about this. First of all, it is true that I started my honeymoon in 1980 in Florence. I was then a post-graduate student in the European University Institute in Florence but I was not only in Florence. Afterwards I've travelled with my car to Naples, Rome and so on. But I keep a great memory of Florence, where I spent at the time almost one month with my wife and afterwards in all Italy, a country I really love and admire.

If I may add something more about Florence I'd like to thank Prime Minister Renzi because before being Prime Minister, as a Mayor of Florence, he was developing around Florence a European cluster, supporting the European University Institute, which is the most important European institution for learning. And I participated in three or four of his State of the Union speeches and I'm going to make a confession to you, in your presence. Remember what I said to you in 2010? I said to Prime Minister Renzi, at that time Mayor, 'you are going to become Prime Minister of Italy'. I said this to you and when you became Prime Minister and you came to Brussels you said 'here I am'.

I'm telling you this because I think you should trust my political analysis and judgement, also for the goals of the Italian Presidency. And then I have to say that we fully support the Italian Presidency, which has established a clear set of goals, that we very much welcome, namely the need for reform, both at home and in the European Union. And we need this new enthusiasm.

An enthusiasm that, for example, yesterday, in the Quirinale, I saw from President Napolitano. And the comment among myself and my colleagues from the Commission was if there would be a problem to have the President of the European Commission asking President Napolitano to become President of the European Commission. Because of the enthusiasm for Europe. And Italy, as a founding member, has this kind of passion for Europe. I saw it in the Prime Minister Renzi's speech some days ago in Strasbourg in the European Parliament and there was the same enthusiasm, the same passion.

What I mean by this is that this is not just a political declaration. It's a way of working. We need, at European level, to work together, the European institutions and the European governments. It's a complete mistake to think, as sometimes happens, that we can succeed with national politicians putting the blame in Brussels when things don't go right in their countries. It's a mistake. At the same time, it's also a mistake in Brussels or Strasbourg to think we can take decisions without taking into consideration the real constraints of political decision in our countries, how difficult it is today to respond to the challenges we have in Europe in terms of unemployment, the social urgency we have in so many of our countries.

So I'm pleading already for some time, not always with success, I have to say, for real ownership of the European project, from the European leaders and, of course, the Prime Minister of Italy, the Chancellor of Germany or the President of France are European leaders. European leaders are not just the institutions.

I really welcome this commitment of the Prime Minister Matteo Renzi for these reforms. During our talks he told me about his plans he has for Italy, that are very much in line with the country-specific recommendations of the European Commission. But I want to highlight this: even if there was no European Commission, even if there was no European Union, I am sure Italy would have to make this kind of reforms. So it is not because the European Union is imposing some kind of things. That is a mistake. It is because we need, our countries need to become more competitive. In the 21st century globalization, with the challenge of globalisation our countries need to become more competitive and for that they need to keep fiscal rigor. They need to promote this kind of reform that Prime Minister Renzi so courageously initiated. But also we need to make investments. Investment is really important for Europe. Without investment there will be of course no growth and without growth we'll have no jobs. So this is the response the European Commission is advocating. I am happy to see that we have in Italy a strong like-minded country in terms of this accent on investments and reforms.

And I wish Italy and Prime Minister Renzi and his government all the best, not only during these six months that are very important for Italy and for us. But also for the rest of the mandate because as I have been saying for some years, we need a strong Italy at the centre of a strong European Union.

Thank you.

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