Europe cannot hope for stability unless it acts on growth. That comes from Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.
His austerity-weary country starts its six-month turn holding the European Union’s rotating presidency next Tuesday.
He wants rules applied flexibly for Italy, promising a reform programme in return, lasting till 2017.
Renzi said in parliament in Rome: “After 1,000 days, we’ll show a country which has been able to achieve the kinds of reforms achieved by other countries, like Germany after 2003. We’ll reform not because someone from the outside is asking us to, but because we know we have to.”
Italy’s economy has been stagnant for ten years, four out of ten young people are unemployed, its debts are massive.
Renzi said austerity policies can’t guarantee fiscal stability on their own.
And he rejects that flexibly applying EU treaty rules amounts to breaking them.
“It’s laughable, those who say talking about growth means violating the Treaty. The Treaty breakers are those who talk only about the Stability Pact. Unless we reduce unemployment, unless we can create growth again, we won’t have any stability.”
Renzi went further, adding that Europe needs unity on immigration.
Italy has always asked for more European solidarity in dealing with irregular immigrants arriving by boat from Africa.
“A Europe that can only tell fishermen how they should catch swordfish and tuna, but, when the sea is full of dead people, prefers to look the other way… that sort of Europe cannot call itself a Europe of human values.”
Then there’s the dispute among EU governments over whether Luxembourg’s centre-right Jean-Claude Juncker should become the European Commission’s next powerful president.
A group of centre-left leaders met in Paris on Saturday to back him.
Renzi was one of them, but he said the presidency must be part of a broader policy discussion.
In Rome, Renzi said: “Whoever thinks the democracy gap in Europe can be filled just by appointing Juncker or somebody else to head the Commission… is living on Mars!”
Juncker has most EU member states’ backing but emphatically not Britain’s.
The question of Juncker’s appointment threatens to overshadow an EU summit this Thursday and Friday.
Tough for Renzi, Juncker has insisted the bloc’s budget rules will stay the same.