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European Council: PM Draghi responds to the points raised by the Senate

Wednesday, 23 June 2021

President of the Council of Ministers Mario Draghi responds to the Senate following the general discussion on his official communications ahead of the European Council meeting on 24 and 25 June.

[The following video is available in Italian only]

I would like to make a few general observations before replying to the various points raised.

Firstly, I would like to thank you all for expressing your esteem and encouragement. Having the clear support of the majority of the Senate is the greatest source of strength when dealing with the outside world and when working hard internally to push ahead with this difficult and urgent programme.

Secondly, we are having this discussion after the G7, the NATO summit and a number of bilateral meetings, with Chancellor Merkel and President of the European Commission von der Leyen; the European Council will also meet tomorrow. These meetings have substantially outlined or, to put it better, acknowledged a general change in mood. This change has happened for many different reasons.

The first reason is that economies are performing well: in some cases well, in others very well. The second reason is that we are experiencing some relief as the epidemic now seems to have eased somewhat; it appears to have reduced in intensity. The third reason to breath a sigh of relief has to do with Biden taking over from Trump. The fourth reason, which, in a way, is a result of the third, is that we are once again rebuilding based on multilateralism, equity, negotiations and compromise, which were the foundations for development and prosperity after the Second World War.  

The third observation I would like to make is that, after hearing all of your comments, it would appear that, today, we all feel that we belong to the European Union. There is a huge difference if we compare today’s attitude towards Europe with that of five/six months ago, let alone a year ago, before the Commission had approved submission of the NRRP. Our greater sense of belonging to the EU is also echoed in the fact that other Member States are now realising that they cannot tackle such large challenges alone; we need to do this together.

In fact, as soon as I asked for migration to be put back on the agenda (as I have already mentioned, this hadn’t been discussed by the European Council since June 2018), the response was immediately a positive one. Please note that this is not thanks to the person who made the request, but rather is due to an increased awareness that the challenges we are facing are supranational in nature.

In a way, your comments today and the general position of European Council members go hand in hand, moving towards greater and stronger recognition of the EU as the entity of reference.

As I said, I shall now try to briefly but accurately reply to your various comments.

Senator Casini, it is not exactly true that all the problems are still there. Much has been done: a decree regarding simplification measures; a reform regarding recruitment in the Public Administration; in July, there will be a new competition law and a reform of the justice system. You quite rightly underlined the need for this to be a fundamental and major reform and not, as you put it, a mere stopgap measure. We shall see. A draft enabling law for the reform of the Public Procurement Code and concessions will be submitted by the end of the month. In short, the problems remain, but we are trying to face them quickly, efficiently and incisively.

Moving on to your second point, it is not that we don’t have any cards to play in Libya. I believe we have at least the same number cards than the other players involved in that part of the world, or who would like to be. The one player who would have the most cards to play does not wish to be involved in that area. This is something that was discussed in Cornwall. However, we are trying to encourage the European Union, acting as such, to take action under United Nations auspices and to then see whether the United States may be able to support, or in any case approve, United Nations actions in that part of the world, being fully aware that this challenge has now become too great for individual countries to deal with alone. Do you remember years ago when other European countries claimed to have a national strategy that needed to be defended in Libya? That their national interests needed to be defended?

Those countries are no longer making such claims; they are instead trying to rethink their position in the Sahel and, in a way, they are trying to reduce their presence in order to place more trust in joint and concerted action.
This brings me on to what I believe to be another positive development: before, we would go around in a disorganised manner, harming each other and competing with each other; today, there is no longer talk of different positions, as we discuss together and move forward in the same direction.

Senator Monti, with his great experience of how the European Union works, commented that the unanimity principle blocks all reforms. It is perhaps going too far to say ‘all reforms’ because, at the end of the day, we have come a long way, even with the unanimity principle. Italy has always sought to move beyond this principle but, given that a unanimous vote is needed to abolish unanimity, we have not yet been successful. Tomorrow, we hope to be able to move forward unanimously, or otherwise see the enhanced cooperation procedure being applied more extensively. This will probably be the path that will also need to be taken with regard to migration.

Senator Masini, I’ll explain why in more detail later on but I fully agree that we need to defend fundamental freedoms and human and civil rights, and not only manage immigration (‘manage’ is an ugly word and I would prefer not to use it), but also deal with an issue that has probably not been tackled with enough determination until now – integration. We must help legal migrants to integrate. This is very important: if we do not successfully integrate legal migrants, we are harming ourselves first and foremost because we are creating potential enemies of the country where these people have to live, either because they are forced to or because they have a reason to. 
These people find themselves living in a country without integration into society, to which we are automatically entitled due to our birth right, culture or history. We take it for granted that we are part of society, but they cannot. This is a very important aspect when looking at how to manage immigration in general. I would like to repeat the fact that I do not like the word ‘manage’, although I continue to use it.

Senator Bonino quite rightfully asked us to do our homework, without awaiting palingenetic reforms from Europe. Indeed, as I mentioned in my response to Senator Casini, a lot is being done and shall continue to be done.
Many of the points raised have touched upon the political position that needs to be taken vis-à-vis countries that have autocratic tendencies, violate human and civil rights, undermine political liberties, impose forced imprisonment, use workers like slaves, et cetera. Some of these are large countries. If we wish to resolve, or at least tackle, the problem of climate change, cooperation with China is a must. 

I would like to recall once again that the European Union produces only 7% of the world’s CO2 emissions, with China producing 30% and the rest being produced mainly by the United States and India. 

This is why it is so important that the United States, with the arrival of Biden, has returned to multilateral discussions, joining the global fight against climate change. Following the same logic, it is also very important to cooperate with China and also with India, the other large producer of CO2 emissions albeit to a smaller extent. This, however is only the first country; the same is true also for Russia and Turkey: we all need to work with these countries for one reason or another. 

However, cooperation is only the first step; the second step is competition, and this is particularly true for China. We compete with China, and we must therefore also defend ourselves. Unfair competition practices are often used, against which we must protect ourselves. In my opinion, this is natural: it is natural that we acknowledge that China can pursue objectives of economic greatness, progress and development, just as it is natural that we must defend ourselves and also pursue these objectives, and so we need to defend ourselves against unfair competition.

The third element of the strategy concerns the position that we need to take regarding human rights, the violation of personal liberty and all forms of discrimination, as I mentioned before. Here, we need to be frank. In other words, agreements and cooperation are important but frankness is equally as important; it must be clearly stated that the European Union does not tolerate such violations and, despite having dealings with these countries, we must underline that our views of the world are very different. 

So: cooperation, competition, frankness and courage.

In response to Senator Alfieri: I would like to thank you for your words of appreciation regarding the G7’s decision to create a task force that should theoretically go on to compete with that of the Silk Road and vaccine geopolitics – in relation to which I do not have any data regarding how successful this may be. Recent data provided by the Commission show that there is fundamentally a huge gap between what is promised and what is actually done; having said that, this is another tool for geopolitical discussion, which is happening all over the world to a certain extent, especially in Africa. So, it is a good thing that the G7 has taken this initiative.

Senator Alfieri went on to ask me about discrimination. Firstly, I shall make reference to the Senate’s discussions over the last few days, without going into detail about the issue. With regard to the latest developments, what I would like to say is that ours is a secular state. It is therefore not a religious state, and Parliament is, of course, free to debate and legislate. Our legal system contains all the guarantees necessary to ensure that laws always respect constitutional principles and international commitments, including the Concordat with the Church. The parliamentary commissions in charge carry out prior constitutionality checks; Parliament itself then discusses whether laws are constitutional before they are then subsequently referred to the Constitutional Court for verification.

Lastly, I would like to quote a Constitutional Court ruling from 1989. Secularity does not mean that the State is indifferent to religion. Secularity means protecting pluralism and cultural diversity. 

For the sake of completeness, I would like to add that, yesterday, Italy signed a joint declaration together with 16 other EU countries, expressing concern over the articles in Hungarian law that discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. This is all I would like to say today on this, without going into the details of the parliamentary debate. As you can see, the Government is following the debate but, during this phase, it is up to Parliament to discuss the issue, not the Government.

I shall now address Senator Crucioli, who quite rightfully reminded me that the glass can be seen as being half full or half empty. You clearly always see it as being half empty, whereas I tend to see it as being half full on certain occasions, perhaps also because it is in my interest to do so. You are perfectly right in saying that there are millions of poor people and that there has been a significant increase in the number of poor people. Please note that these numbers were already increasing prior to Covid-19 and clearly rose further both during and after the pandemic. Does this mean that we aren’t doing well?

No, it means that there are poor people and we need to tackle poverty and that, at the same time, the economy is recovering and is thankfully recovering well, which will help us to deal with this issue. In order to combat poverty, in all of its provisions to date (i.e. the two decrees providing support measures), this Government has dedicated truly significant amounts to fund emergency income, once again expressing solidarity with the categories that are the largest beneficiaries of said emergency income and that are often forgotten. There are categories that are rightly entitled to unemployment benefits and insurance, and these other categories, which are the ones that cause food bank queues to grow, are often forgotten. In fact, up until a few months ago, for the first time in history, over 50% of those queuing at food banks were Italian. We hope to see a rapid change in this situation and, for this to happen, we cannot ignore the problem. We must recognise that the problem exists and acknowledge that the situation is improving, which will also help us in this regard.

Moving on to expansionary policy, I did not say a few months, it may even take a few years; all I know at the moment is that restrictive policy is out of the question, as things stand. No-one is currently considering this for that matter. Even those countries that have traditionally leaned towards fiscal austerity are recognising that, at this point in time, large spending commitments are what is needed. Just think about the things we have discussed today: the pandemic, international cooperation, economic recovery, vaccines, donations. This is not the time to think about nor imagine imminent austerity.

I shall now reply to Senator Crucioli’s third point regarding the Stability and Growth Pact which, unless I’m mistaken, was also raised by Senator Bagnai and others. It is now a shared belief that this Pact, as it was before, is outdated. For more or less the last three years, I have continued to point out that the tax rules we had before were no longer adequate; today this Pact is definitively outdated. We have plenty of time to discuss this and I hope that the relative discussions will be well-balanced and well-informed. Based on what I have been told by Commissioner Gentiloni, discussions will be held throughout 2022 and we will have to wait until 2023 for decisions regarding whether there will be fiscal rules and what those rules shall entail. We therefore have plenty of time and the Government is already working on this. These discussions will also be about trying to establish a common stance in a given direction.

So, at this point in time, in-depth analysis needs to go hand in hand with economic diplomacy.

In addition to the vaccination campaign, the epidemiological situation has undoubtedly benefited from the seasonality of the virus. This point brings me on to something else that I would like to underline: this is not a free-for-all. We now have the experience of last year, we have learnt our lesson. We must now learn to be ready, in terms of infrastructure, logistics and local public transport and, above all, we must be ready to identify outbreaks that may only be minor at first, taking swift action to tackle them. We must continue cooperating with regional authorities. Relations between the Government and Italy’s regional authorities are good at the moment and it is important that this remains the case. In this regard, we must also thank our Armed Forces, Civil Protection and Red Cross, and the millions of volunteers involved. Their work is not yet over; we must stay mobilised as we do not know what awaits us.

I fully agree with Senator Ferro’s point that it is essential to make quality investments. As I said during yesterday’s NRRP ceremony with the President of the European Commission, I hope and I want that money to be spent well. Spending those funds well means efficiently, but also honestly. Ensuring quality investments and honest procedures when it comes to this spending will be fundamental for our growth, but also to prove to the rest of the EU, to those Member States whose citizens have paid taxes to fund our NRRP, that this money has not been spent badly. Hence why this is so important and why we have such a huge responsibility towards ourselves and towards the rest of the EU.

Senator Bagnai rightfully drew our attention to the importance of supporting early medical treatment, which is something that is broadly agreed upon today and we are already working on the organisation of local healthcare services. The NRRP itself focuses a lot on these services and a substantial investment is planned in telemedicine, precisely in order to be able to immediately reach remote locations. In addition to telemedicine, supporting local healthcare services is a focus for both current policies and the NRRP.

In response to Senator Pellegrini, my only observation is that we are all European, as I mentioned before.
Senator Garavini rightfully drew our attention to the need to deal with the factors that lead to immigration. Indeed, this is precisely what is meant by the ‘external dimension’ of the European Union. Part of this external dimension means doing everything possible to combat these phenomena, first and foremost by providing more economic assistance to the countries in question. However, this also means providing them with technical assistance and know-how; just think about the production of vaccines, for example. Many of you have touched upon this point. There have been discussions between those wanting to suspend patent property rights and, on the other hand, certain vaccine-producing countries wishing to defend property rights, also for good reasons that are not difficult to understand. 

These discussions are now moving in a more constructive direction. The European Commission has submitted a proposal to the World Trade Organisation regarding a mandatory granting of licences; this represents an alternative to the suspension of property rights, by making it compulsory to attribute licences to produce the vaccines. In the meantime, production sites are being identified in Africa, but this is not enough: even if these initial steps are made, producing vaccines is a complicated process. Know-how must be transferred and, in practical terms, the cooperation of the private sector is needed which, I must say, was already revealed during the Global Health Summit. Indeed, one of the first results of these discussions has been the pledges made by large pharmaceutical companies. First and foremost, BioNTech-Pfizer will give two billion doses to Africa and low-income countries at cost, and to medium-income countries at just a small profit. 

These discussions have therefore been extremely fruitful as they have led to this immediate action being taken by the private sector, as well as to a proposal being put forward by the European Commission, which we hope will be accepted. 
Moving on to Senator Zaffini’s point regarding the various issues with the World Health Organisation: during the last G7, we discussed a reform of the WHO so let’s see where those discussions lead. The level of uncertainty shown, especially at the start of the pandemic, has not gone unnoticed. Senator Zaffini also rightfully recalled the need for more sequencing, and this is very important indeed. However, another important aspect is the need to swiftly identify outbreaks as they occur.

I do not agree that we should not be vaccinating minors. Children are vaccinated against measles, meningitis; children get vaccinated. The issue at the moment is understanding whether this is a priority. This morning, I said that the priority is to look for any over-50s who have not yet been vaccinated and to try to vaccinate all of them, attempting to persuade anyone who may not want to. This is our main objective at the moment, especially considering that we do not know what autumn has in store.

With regard to the vaccination campaign, Senator Boldrini called for caution. We of course need to appreciate the improvements that have been made, but it is too early to ring the victory bell.

I believe I have answered many of your questions.

I would like to remind Senator Lorefice that, in relation to the number of immigrants referred to, the total is not 27 thousand but 19 thousand.

I would like to say one thing to Senator Candiani: I agree that being able to do business should not be a luxury, but protecting labour rights should also not be a luxury. The Senator also referred to the need to reform the European Union, but just think that, with the NRRP, the European Union has changed completely. We’ve gone from management based on rather nationalistic positions to a shared management; as I mentioned before, there are countries that have taxed their citizens to fund the grants provided by the NRRP. This is one of the many changes. With regard to migration, we should not be expecting triumphant results. There will be a long negotiation process and we need to remain persistent, incisive and, above all, incessant. We may well see results on both a multilateral and a bilateral level, but I am not sure how quickly they will be achieved.

Thank you and I apologise for my lengthy response.

[Courtesy translation]