Renzi calls for jobs, growth to be founding EU values

Italy will push for change in six months at union's helm

09 May, 21:07

    (By Denis Greenan). (ANSA) - FLORENCE, MAY 9 - Italian Premier Matteo Renzi on Friday called for jobs and growth to become "founding values" of the European Union as he warned against anti-euro populist sentiment in the run-up to the May 25 European elections.

    Renzi said Italy will work during its six-month EU duty presidency, starting at the end of June, to steer the union away from austerity so that "jobs and growth become founding values, not just (fiscal) discipline". "Discipline was needed to save banks but we now need to save the middle class," Renzi said at a State of the Union event in Florence. Italy respects EU rules on fiscal discipline and therefore is "entitled to ask that these rules be changed," Renzi said. "Italy can say with determination" during its six-month term at the helm of the EU that growth-friendly moves are needed after a period of austerity, he said.

    The European Union must be "lighter" and must have fewer rules that are "simple and shared by all," said the former Florence mayor, Italy's youngest premier at 39.

    Renzi said he was more worried by the spread of anti-euro populism in the EU than the ever-lower financial spread between Italian and German 10-year bonds. He said he was concerned about a democratic deficit and "the gap between what citizens expect and what they get".

    Pro-EU forces should "raise their heads" to fight Euroskeptics, Renzi said. They should explain that "a stronger and more cohesive Europe is the only solution in this globalised era to the difficulties of our time," he said.

    The European Union is not a common past but a common destiny, Renzi said. "It is impossible to avoid" this destiny, the former Florence mayor said.

    The Italian government should bet on "courage rather than fear" in the run-up to the May 25 European Parliament elections, Renzi said. "We must bet on a project, not a threat," he said.

    Renzi scoffed at the idea pushed by anti-euro parties that Italy should return to the lira to be able to boost the economy by competitive devaluations. "When they hear such talk, our young people think of a musical instrument," he quipped, referring to "lyre" which is another meaning of lira in Italian.

    Renzi said he hoped his children would see a United States of Europe. "I dream, think and work towards a United States of Europe," he said in the State of the Union address.

    In other remarks, Renzi defended Italy's major migrant-saving operation in the Mediterranean, Mare Nostrum, while voicing the hope the EU would provide more support to share the burden.

    There had been "shameful" criticism by anti-immigrant parties like the Northern League of the search-and-rescue op to avert migrant disasters in the Mediterranean, where thousands of North African asylum seekers attempt the perilous passage every year, Renzi said. He said the op, which has been criticised for welcoming all comers and allegedly playing into the hands of people traffickers, had averted "100" possible recurrences of last year's twin wrecks at the stepping-stone island of Lampedusa that took 400 lives. (ANSAmed).

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