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José Manuel Durão Barroso
President of the European Commission
Remarks by President Barroso following his meeting with Italian Prime Minister Letta and the visit of the Italian government to the Commission
Brussels, 29 January 2014
Good afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me welcome, once again, my friend Enrico Letta, President of the Council of Ministers of Italy, here at the European Commission – accompanied by five ministers of his government. I would like to thank Prime Minister Letta wholeheartedly for his commitment and enthusiasm for Europe, and more concretely for his strong support on key priorities like banking union and the EU 2030 climate and energy package. This visit highlights the importance we attach to close dialogue between the Commission and Member States – which is more important than ever as we are making our way out of the crisis.
Today, we had the occasion to discuss not only the current situation in Europe but also the very important Presidency of the Council by Italy in the second half of 2014, the Italian Semester.
At the heart of our discussions were our efforts to promote growth and jobs in Europe. We all agreed that 2014 can mark a turning point, for Europe and for Italy. Our comprehensive crisis strategy consisting of fiscal consolidation, structural reforms and targeted investment has started to show some positive results.
Italy, thanks to its impressive efforts, was able to exit the Excessive Deficit Procedure in 2013. This was a major achievement. This has helped to re-establish confidence and bringing spreads down - saving billions of euro to tax payers. In addition, Italy, under the leadership of Prime Minister Letta, has also introduced measures to fight unemployment, to simplify the public administration, to reduce the number of infringements of EU law to enhance investors' confidence in the Single Market, and to make better use of EU funds.
Let me commend in particular Italy's commitment to implement the Youth Guarantee. Italy has also started to pay back commercial debt to Italy's enterprises, which rely heavily on this additional liquidity. Furthermore, the government's announcements regarding privatisations, the Spending Review to identify savings in the public sector and the "Destination Italy" package to improve the business environment are very important steps in the stairway to growth and jobs. The Commission is looking forward to see these taken forward with determination in the months ahead.
But even if we are coming closer to the finish line, the marathon is by far not over. Now it is crucial not to become distracted on the last kilometres. The slightest doubt about our determination could cause an erosion of what we have achieved so far, namely the renewed confidence there is now regarding Europe and what was called before the periphery countries. We should continue with determination so that we can avoid to put new water on the mills of populist and anti-European forces. I am pleased that we share the same analysis today. We all know that Italy's economic success will crucially depend on progress on two fronts: reducing the enormous mountain of debt that stands in the way of Italy's future; and unlocking the country's growth potential by implementing structural reforms.
In this context, Prime Minister Letta sketched out the ambitious way forward for Italy. The Commission noted with satisfaction that the Italian government under the leadership of Prime Minister Letta continues to move into the right direction, and is eager to secure a stable majority for it. We see renewed ambition towards crucial reforms for growth and jobs and the commitment for consolidation of public finances.
The European Commission continues to stand by Italy in the context of our economic policy coordination, and also by making available fresh EU funds for Italy during the period 2014-2020. For example almost 30 billion euros – I repeat 30 billion euros –under the Structural and Investment Funds. You will see, if this money is properly invested, what a contribution it can give to the Italian economy.
Today, we also discussed fully the Italian presidency of the Council in the second half of 2014. This will be a special presidency, even more delicate than usual presidencies, because it will be presidency of the transitions in the European institutions: a new Parliament and a new Commission. So the way Italy manages this presidency is extremely important so that we can have not only a smooth transition but also avoid any kind of interruption in the very important work that is now in the pipeline in Europe.
Under the new legislature after the European elections it will be key to implement banking union and make further progress towards fiscal, economic and political union. We already have some dates, not only the March and June European Councils, but we will also have for instance an important October European Council, already during the Italian presidency, when fundamental aspects of the monetary and economic union will be discussed and hopefully approved.
It will also be the moment to shape the EU's position on the 2030 Energy and climate policy framework and on the future of justice and home affairs, including migration. For instance, regarding energy and climate, let me tell you that we are going to have a first discussion at the European Council in March, but I expect the discussion not to be a final one. Since we have in 2015 the very importance conference of the parties in Paris, there will be also - to prepare it - an important high level summit that Ban Ki-moon, Secretary General of the United Nations, called in for September in New York, and it will be very important that in that moment we Europeans could appear together shaping the world debate so we can bring others closer to our level of ambition. I strongly believe, with Italy at the helm of the European Union, citizens will recognise more and more that Europe is part of the solution.
We also touched upon foreign relations. I will not go into detail now, but let me mention Ukraine. In our exchange of views on the latest developments both sides underlined the importance of the European Union remaining actively engaged to promote dialogue and work towards a negotiated solution to the current crisis.
Before concluding, let me mention two issues that I believe are very important for Italy but also for Europe:
Expo 2015 Milan. Later today, Prime Minister Letta and I will jointly participate in a presentation of Expo 2015 Milan in the European Parliament. With Expo 2015 Milan, the world is looking at Europe and Italy. I am confident that Expo 2015 Milan will attract visitors and investment at an unprecedented scale. I am glad and proud that such a major event takes place in Europe. The European Union, and now speaking for the European Commission directly, is determined to help making it a success.
Finally, a point that Prime Minister Letta has raised with me and on which we have been in close contact with the Italian authorities, is the issue of the Italian marines in India. The European Union continues to follow the situation very closely. Any decision on the case may have an impact on overall European Union-India relations and will be assessed carefully. The European Union encourages India to find, as a matter of urgency, a mutually satisfactory solution to the longstanding case of the Italian marines arrested in February 2012, in accordance with international law and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. This issue has also a bearing on the global fight against piracy, to which the European Union is strongly committed. Also, at this occasion I said clearly that the European Union is opposed to the use of the death penalty in all cases and under any circumstances.
So, to conclude, ladies and gentlemen, it was indeed a very fruitful meeting not only following the very frequent contacts I have with my friend, Prime Minister Enrico Letta, but also because it was an occasion for the Prime Minister and his team of Ministers to interact with the entire College of Commissioners. So, we could, in what I have called a spirit of European complicity exchange our notes and see what we can do together to reinforce Europe and the European Union.
And as you know, with Prime Minister Letta and his government Italy remains loyal to its tradition of strong support not only to the Community method but to a strong European Community and a strong European Union, and I want to very publicly recognise that and thank Prime Minister Letta for that, because he has been a very important ally to all of us that want a stronger Europe at the service of our citizens.
I thank you for your attention.