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President of the Council of Ministers Giorgia Meloni’s parliamentary address on the Government programme

Tuesday, 25 October 2022

Mr President,
Honourable colleagues,

I have spoken in this Chamber many times, as an MP, as Vice-President of the Chamber, as Youth Minister, and yet the solemnity is so great that I believe there has never been a time when I have managed to speak without feeling a great deal of emotion and deep respect. This is of course even more so the case today, as I speak to you as President of the Council of Ministers, to ask you to express your confidence in my Government. Those who have to obtain, and deserve, that vote of confidence have a great responsibility, as do those who have to grant, or deny, their vote of confidence. These are the fundamental moments for our democracy, which we must never take for granted. This is why I wish to immediately thank all those who will express themselves in this Chamber based on their own beliefs, whatever their choice may be.

My sincere thanks go to the President of the Republic, Sergio Mattarella, who has shared his precious advice with me, acting on the decision clearly made by Italians on 25 September. I, of course, also wish to thank the parties in the Government coalition – my Fratelli d’Italia, Lega, Forza Italia, Noi Moderati and their leaders; the centre-right that, after winning the election, has created this Government in one of the shortest time frames in the history of this Republic. I believe this is the most tangible sign of a cohesion that, in practice, always manages to overcome different sensibilities in the name of a higher interest. The swiftness seen over the last few days was a matter of course for us, but was also necessary, because the extremely difficult situation Italy finds itself in means we cannot hesitate or waste time, and we do not intend to. This is why I also wish to thank my predecessor, Mario Draghi, who over the last weeks has made every effort, both at national and international level, to ensure a rapid and smooth transition to the new government, despite it ironically being led by the president of the only party in opposition to his government. This point has been dwelled on a lot, but I would like to say that I don’t think there is anything strange about it. This is the way it should always be; this is the case in all great democracies.

Among the many responsibilities I feel on my shoulders today, there is of course the responsibility that comes with being the first woman to lead a government in Italy. When I stop and reflect on how important that is, I inevitably think of the responsibility I have towards all those women who face great and unfair difficulties in asserting their talent or even simply their right to have their daily sacrifices appreciated. My thoughts also reverently go to those women whose example has paved the way for me to today be able to smash that heavy glass ceiling above our heads. Women who dared, driven by passion, reason or love. Women like Cristina (Trivulzio di Belgioioso), the elegant organiser of salons and barricades; Rosalie (Montmasson), who was so determined she set off with the famous Thousand that created Italy; Alfonsina (Strada) who pedalled hard against the wind of prejudice; Maria (Montessori) and Grazia (Deledda) whose example opened the doors of education to girls throughout Italy; and, that’s not forgetting Tina (Anselmi), Nilde (Jotti), Rita (Levi Montalcini), Oriana (Fallaci), Ilaria (Alpi), Mariagrazia (Cutuli), Fabiola (Giannotti), Marta (Cartabia), Elisabetta (Casellati), Samantha (Cristoforetti), Chiara (Corbella Petrillo). Thank you! Thank you for demonstrating the value of Italian women, as indeed I also now hope to do.
My most sincere thanks go to the Italian people: to those who decided to participate in the elections and vote, allowing for the democratic process to fully function, a process whereby it is the people, and only the people, who hold sovereignty. I do regret, however, that so many decided not to fulfil this civic duty, which is enshrined in the Constitution. Citizens who increasingly often see their vote as being worthless because, according to them: “someone else makes the decisions anyway, decisions are only made behind the doors of institutional buildings, in exclusive circles”. Unfortunately, this has actually often been the case over the last 11 years, with a succession of government majorities that were fully legitimate from a constitutional point of view but dramatically far from what voters were telling us. 
Today, we are putting a stop to this great anomaly of Italy’s, creating a political government that fully represents the will of the people. We intend to do so by fully assuming our rights and obligations as election winners: to be a parliamentary majority and government team for five years, to the best of our ability and always putting the nation’s interest first, above single and party interests. We will not use the vote of millions of Italians to replace one system of power with another distinct and opposing one. 

We want to unleash the best this country has to offer and guarantee a future with greater freedom, justice, well-being and security for Italians, for all Italians. If, to achieve this, we have to disgruntle some potentates, or make choices that some citizens may not immediately understand, we will not back down; courage is certainly not something we lack.

During the election campaign, we presented a framework programme of the coalition government, with the more detailed programmes of each party. Voters chose the centre-right and, within the coalition, they rewarded certain proposals more than others. We will maintain those commitments, because the very essence of democracy lies in the tie between the representative and those being represented. I am well aware that some observers and opposition parties won’t like many of our proposals, but I do not intend to go along with the deviation that democracy belongs to some more than others, that an unwelcome election result should not be accepted and should even be blocked with whatever means possible. Over the last few days, many, even outside of our national borders, have said that they want to watch over the new government. I’d say they can find better things to do with their time. In this Chamber and in our Parliament, there are valid and assertive opposition forces that are more than able to make their voice heard without, I hope, the need for any outside help. 

I also want to hope that those forces agree with me on the fact that those from abroad who say that they want to watch over Italy are not disrespectful to me or to this Government; they are disrespectful to Italians, who do not need to be taught any lessons.

Italy is rightfully part of the West and its system of alliances, a founding member of the European Union, the euro area and the Atlantic Alliance, a member of the G7 and, even before all of this, the cradle, together with Greece, of western civilisation and its system of values based on freedom, equality and democracy; precious attributes stemming from Europe’s classical and Judaeo-Christian roots. We are the heirs of Saint Benedict, an Italian and the main patron saint for the whole of Europe.

With regard to Europe, please allow me to first of all thank the heads of the EU institutions, President of the European Council Charles Michel, President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Parliament Roberta Metsola, President-in-Office of the Council, my friend, Petr Fiala and, along with them, the many Heads of State and Government who have wished me well in this role over the last few days. I am of course aware of the curiosity and interest surrounding the approach the government will take towards the European institutions, or to put it better, inside the European institutions, as that is where Italy will make its voice heard loudly, as is appropriate for a great founding nation, not to slow down or sabotage European integration, as I have sometimes heard people say, also in recent weeks, but to contribute to guide that integration towards more efficient responses to crises and external threats and towards an approach that is closer to citizens and businesses.

To be clear: we don’t see the European Union as an elite club, with A-list members and B-list members or, worse, like a corporation run by a board of directors with the sole task of keeping the books in order. For us, the European Union is the common home of European populations and, as such, it must be able to address the great challenges of our time, starting with those that are difficult for Member States to address alone. I am of course referring to trade agreements, but also to the procurement of raw materials and energy, migration policies, geopolitical choices, the fight against terrorism – major challenges in the face of which the European Union has not always been ready.
Colleagues, how is it possible that an integration that began in 1950, 70 years ago, as the European Coal and Steel Community, 70 years on, after disproportionately expanding its spheres of competence, is now in the position of being more at risk precisely with regard to energy and raw material supplies?
Those who ask these questions are not enemies or heretics, but are rather pragmatic and not afraid of saying when something does not work as it could. A more efficient integration is needed to address major challenges, respecting the founding motto that reads “United in diversity”, because this is Europe’s great distinguishing feature: nations with thousand-year-old histories, able to unite while each bringing their own identity as an added value. A common European home certainly means shared rules, including financial-economic rules. This Government will respect the rules currently in force and, at the same time, it will offer its contribution to change those that have not worked, starting with the ongoing debate regarding the reform of the Stability and Growth Pact. 

With its strength and its history, Italy has the duty, even more so than the right, to stand tall in these international fora, with a constructive spirit, but without subordination or inferiority complexes, which seemed to us to happen too often in the past, asserting its national interest while being aware of a common European and western destiny.

The Atlantic Alliance guarantees our democracies a framework of peace and security, which we take for granted too often: it is Italy’s duty to fully contribute, because, whether we like it or not, freedom has a cost and that cost, for a nation, is its ability to defend itself and prove it is a reliable partner within the framework of alliances to which it belongs. Over the years, Italy has demonstrated this, starting with the many international missions in which we have played a leading role; for this, I wish to thank the men and women in our armed forces for maintaining Italy’s high prestige in the most difficult of situations, even paying with their own lives: Italy will always be grateful to you!

Italy will continue to be a reliable partner within the Atlantic Alliance, starting with support for the brave Ukrainian people who are opposing the invasion by the Russian Federation, not only because we cannot accept a war of aggression and the violation of a sovereign nation’s territorial integrity, but also because this is the best way to defend our national interest. Only by respecting its commitments can Italy have the authority to ask, within Europe and the West, for example, that the burdens of the international crisis be shared more equally, and that is what we intend to do, starting with the issue of energy.

The war has worsened the already very difficult situation caused by rising energy and fuel costs; these costs are unsustainable for many businesses, which may be forced to close and lay off their workers, and for millions of households who are already no longer able to afford higher bills. However, those who believe we can trade Ukraine’s freedom for our peace of mind are wrong. Giving in to Putin’s blackmail on energy would not solve the problem, it would worsen it, paving the way for further demands and blackmail, with future energy price rises even higher than the ones we have seen in recent months. The signals from the last European Council meeting are a step forward, achieved thanks also to the hard work of my predecessor and Minister Cingolani, but they are still not enough. The fact that there is still no common response means there are only the measures of single national governments, which risk undermining the internal market and the competitiveness of our businesses.

With regard to prices, although it is true on the one hand that the mere discussion of containment measures has momentarily curbed speculation, on the other it is clear that speculation will begin to rise again unless announcements are quickly followed by concrete mechanisms. This is also why it will be necessary to maintain and strengthen national measures to support households and businesses, with regard to both bills and fuel costs – a massive financial commitment that will drain the majority of the resources available, forcing us to postpone other measures we would have liked to launch already in the next budget law. However, our priority today must be to curb energy price rises and in any case to speed up our diversification of supply sources and national production, because I want to believe that, paradoxically, this dramatic energy crisis can actually also create an opportunity for Italy. There are gas deposits in our seas that we must make full use of and our nation, especially the Mezzogiorno, is a renewable energy paradise, with its sun, wind, underground heat, tides and rivers – a wealth of green energy that is too often blocked by bureaucracy and incomprehensible vetoes. In short, I am convinced that, with a little bit of courage and a practical approach, Italy can come out of this crisis stronger and more independent than before.

In addition to high energy costs, Italian families are finding themselves having to deal with an inflation rate that has reached 11.1 percent on an annual basis and is inexorably eroding their purchasing power, despite part of these increases being absorbed by companies. It is essential to intervene with measures aimed at increasing households’ disposable income, starting with reducing taxes on productivity bonuses, further raising the exemption threshold for so-called fringe benefits, enhancing corporate welfare and managing to increase the number of primary goods that benefit from the reduced VAT rate of five percent. We will address such concrete measures also in the next budget law, which we are already working on.

The Government will find itself having to act in a very complicated context, perhaps the most difficult since the end of the Second World War. Geopolitical tensions and the energy crisis are holding back hopes for a post-pandemic economic recovery. Macroeconomic forecasts for 2023 indicate a marked slowdown for the Italian, European and global economy and, furthermore, in a climate of complete uncertainty. In September, the European Central Bank revised its 2023 growth forecasts for the euro area, with a cut of 1.2 percentage points compared with the forecasts made in June, predicting growth of just 0.9 percent. A slowdown is expected and forecasts are being revised downwards obviously also with regard to Italian economic performance next year. In the latest update to the Economy and Finance Document [‘Nota di Aggiornamento al DEF’ - ‘NADEF’], expected GDP growth for 2023 stands at just 0.6 percent, exactly a quarter of the 2.4 percent forecast in the Economy and Finance Document in April, and these forecasts by the Ministry of Economy and Finance are even optimistic compared with the most recent ones by the International Monetary Fund, which expect the Italian economy to be in recession in 2023: minus 0.2 percent – the worst result among the world’s major economies after Germany. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated situation; the figures speak for themselves: over the last twenty years, Italy has grown by four percent overall, while France and Germany by more than 20 percent; in the last ten years, Italy has been one of the lowest-ranking nations in Europe in terms of economic growth and employment, with the only exception being the rebound recorded after the dramatic drop in GDP in 2020. It is no coincidence that this last decade has also seen a succession of weak, heterogeneous governments without a clear mandate from the people, unable to resolve the structural weaknesses weighing down on Italy and its economy and to lay the foundations for sustained and lasting growth.

So, low or zero growth accompanied by rising inflation, which has exceeded nine percent in the euro area, leading the European Central Bank, like other central banks, to raise interest rates for the first time in 11 years. Many view this as a risky decision that could have an impact on bank lending to households and businesses; this is in addition to the decision already made by the ECB to end its programme to purchase fixed-income securities on the open market on 1 July 2022, creating further difficulty for Member States who, like us, have a high level of public debt. We are therefore in the midst of a storm. Our ship has been damaged several times and Italians have entrusted us with the task of sailing her to port along this extremely difficult crossing. We were aware of what awaited us, as indeed are all the other political parties, including those who have governed over the last ten years and have worsened the key macroeconomic fundamentals (this is what the numbers tell us) and who will today of course say that they have the solutions and are ready to blame the new Government for the difficulties Italy faces. We were aware of the huge weight we were loading onto our shoulders. We fought to take on this responsibility regardless, firstly because we are not used to running away and secondly because our ship, Italy, dents and all, is still “the most beautiful ship in the world”, to quote the famous phrase used by US aircraft carrier the USS Independence when it sailed by Italian training ship the Amerigo Vespucci. A solid vessel that can reach any destination it likes if it decides to set sail again. So, we are here to try and mend the torn sails, affix the planks of the hull and overcome the waves crashing against us, with our firm beliefs as our compass, setting the course towards our chosen destination, and with a crew able to perform their tasks in the best way possible.

We have been asked how we intend to reassure investors given that our debt stands at 145 percent of GDP, in Europe second only to Greece. We could reply by stating a number of economic fundamentals that remain solid in Italy in spite of everything: we are one of the few European nations with a constant primary surplus, meaning the government collects more than it spends, net of debt interest; Italian households have private savings in excess of EUR 5 trillion and, in a climate of confidence, these could support investments in the real economy. However, even more so than these figures, which are significant in themselves, Italy’s still untapped potential has an important role to play. I must say that, if this Government succeeds in doing what it has in mind, betting on Italy would not only be a safe investment, but perhaps even a good deal, because the horizon we want to focus on is not next year or the next election; we are interested in how Italy will be in ten years, and I am ready to do what needs to be done, at the cost of not being understood, even at the cost of not being re-elected, to be certain I have made this nation’s future easier, through my work, through our work.

The way to reduce debt is not through the blind austerity imposed in past years, nor is it through more or less creative financial adventurism. The best way, the only way, is through lasting and structural economic growth.

To achieve that growth we are of course open to fostering foreign investment: although on the one hand we will counter predatory approaches that put strategic national products at risk, on the other we will be open to welcoming and encouraging foreign companies that decide to invest in Italy, bringing development, employment and know-how, within a logic of mutual benefits.

In this context, there is also the National Recovery and Resilience Plan (‘NRRP’). Raising funds by issuing common European debt to tackle global crises was a proposal previously put forward by a centre-right government and the Minister of Economy and Finance at the time, Giulio Tremonti; a proposal that was opposed for years, sometimes mocked, but then implemented. The NRRP is an extraordinary opportunity to modernise Italy: we all have the duty to make the most of it. This is a complex challenge given the structural and bureaucratic limitations that have always made it difficult for Italy to successfully use even normal EU funding to the full. Suffice to say that the 2022 NADEF states a lower amount of public spending regarding NRRP funds, reducing the EUR 29.4 billion forecast in the April Economy and Finance Document down to EUR 15 billion. Meeting future deadlines will require even more attention, considering that, so far, mostly works that had already been launched in the past have been recorded, which is something that we cannot continue to do in the coming years. We will spend the EUR 68.9 billion in grants and EUR 122.6 billion in loans allocated to Italy under the NextGenerationEU programme, without delays and without squandering them, agreeing with the European Commission on the necessary adjustments to optimise expenditure, especially in light of raw material price rises and the energy crisis, as these matters must be addressed with a pragmatic approach, not an ideological one.

The NRRP should not only be seen as a major public spending plan, but also as an opportunity to achieve a real cultural change: finally setting aside the logic of bonuses for some (often especially useful to election campaigns) in favour of medium-term investments aimed at improving the well-being of the entire national community; removing all barriers that hold back economic growth and that, for far too long, we have resigned ourselves to seeing as Italy’s endemic ills, but they are not. 

One of these is certainly political instability. Over the last twenty years, Italy has had an average of one government every two years, often with changes to the majority of reference. This is why measures guaranteeing certain and immediate consensus have always prevailed over strategic choices. This is why bureaucratic procedures have often become untouchable and impervious to merit. This is why Italy has had weak negotiating capacity in international fora. It is also why foreign investors, who do not welcome government volatility, have been discouraged. It is why we are firmly convinced that Italy needs a constitutional reform regarding a presidential system, able to guarantee stability and once again give a central role to popular sovereignty. A reform that allows Italy to go from being a “democracy of dialogue” to a “decision-making democracy”.

We want to start with the possibility of a semi-presidential system based on the French model, which was widely accepted in the past, also by the centre-left; having said that, we remain open also to other solutions.

We wish to discuss this with all the other political parties in Parliament, in order to achieve the best and most widely agreed upon reform possible. Let it be clear, however, that we will not give up on reforming Italy, should we find ourselves faced with objections based on prejudice. Should that be the case, we will act according to the mandate given to us by Italians on this issue: to give Italy an institutional system in which whoever wins the election shall govern for five years, at the end of which voters shall judge them based on what they have managed to do.

Alongside the presidential reform, we intend to continue the virtuous differentiated autonomy process that is already underway in a number of Italian regions in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution, implementing the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity, within a context of national cohesion. For the province of Bolzano, we will deal with the bringing back into force of the autonomy standards that led to the end of the dispute before the UN being declared back in 1992. We intend to complete the process to grant Roma Capitale the powers and resources to which a major European capital is entitled and to give new centrality to our municipalities, because every church tower, every village is a piece of our identity that must be defended. I am particularly thinking of those living in Italy’s inner areas, mountains and highlands, who need a State that is on their side in order to encourage people to live there and counter depopulation.

I am convinced that the change we have in mind also provides the perfect opportunity to put the issue of the Mezzogiorno back at the heart of Italy’s agenda. The south of the country should no longer be seen as a problem, but as a development opportunity for the entire nation.

We will work hard to bridge the unacceptable infrastructure gap, eliminate inequalities, create employment, guarantee social security and improve quality of life. We must succeed in putting an end to the ridiculous situation of the south exporting manpower, intelligent minds and capital that are instead fundamental in the very regions they are leaving. This, of course, is not an easy goal, but we will be fully committed to it.    

While dealing with infrastructure in the south of the country can no longer be postponed, new infrastructure is also needed in the rest of Italy, to strengthen connections for people and goods, but also for data and communications. Our aim is to stitch together not only the North with the South, but also the Tyrrhenian coast with the Adriatic coast and the islands with the rest of the Peninsula.

Structural investments are needed to tackle the climate emergency, environmental challenges, the hydrogeological risk and coastal erosion, and to speed up reconstruction processes in the areas that have been affected by the earthquakes and natural disasters of recent years, such as the dramatic flooding that hit the Marche region during the night between 15 and 16 September. Please allow me, together with all of you, to once again express condolences for the victims and offer sympathy to the entire community: we stand by your side, we will not abandon you, you can count on us.

We intend to protect strategic national infrastructure, ensuring networks are publicly owned and allow companies to offer their services with free competition, starting with the communications network. The digital transition, which is strongly supported by the NRRP, must go hand in hand with technological sovereignty, the national cloud and cybersecurity.

With regard to public infrastructure concessions, such as those to operate motorways and airports, we also want to finally introduce a clause to safeguard the national interest, also from an economic point of view. The model of oligarchs sitting on oil wells and accumulating billions without even guaranteeing investments is not a free market model worthy of a western democracy.

Italy must return to having an industrial policy, focusing on the sectors where it can count on a competitive advantage. I am thinking of the ‘Made in Italy’ brand: fashion, luxury, design and high-tech products, as well as agri-food products of the utmost excellence, which must be defended within Europe and with greater supply chain integration at national level, also with the aim of achieving full food sovereignty - this can no longer be postponed. This obviously does not mean we will take pineapples off the shelves, as some have said, but it is more simply about ensuring that we do not depend on countries far away from us to feed our children. I am thinking of Italy’s favourable position in the Mediterranean and the opportunities linked to the marine economy, which can and must become a strategic asset for the whole of the country and, in particular, for the development of our southern regions. 

I am also thinking of Italy’s beauty. More than any other country in the world, Italy embodies the idea of scenic, artistic, narrative and expressive beauty. The rest of the world knows this, loves us for this and this is why they want to buy Italian products, learn about our history and come here on holiday. This is certainly a source of pride, but above all it is an economic resource of inestimable value, fuelling our tourism and culture industry. I would also like to add that a return to focusing on the strategic value of the Italian identity also means promoting the Italian language abroad and enhancing the bond with Italian communities all over the world, who form an integral part of our own.

To allow all growth objectives to be met, we need a cultural revolution regarding central government’s relationship with the production system - these positions must be equal and based on mutual trust. Those who have the strength and desire to do business in Italy today must be supported and encouraged, not harassed and looked upon with suspicion, because it is the companies and their workers that create wealth, not central government through decrees or edicts. This Government’s motto will be: “do not disturb those wanting to get things done”.

Businesses are above all asking for less bureaucracy and for clear, certain rules and rapid, transparent responses. We will address this problem by starting  with a structural simplification and deregulation of administrative procedures in order to stimulate the economy, growth and investment, also because we all know that excessive regulations and red tape exponentially increase the risk of malpractices, disputes and corruption. This is a problem that we have a duty to eradicate.

We need fewer, clearer rules for everyone and a new relationship between the people and the public administration, ensuring citizens do not feel like a weak party faced with a tyrannical State that does not listen to their needs and frustrates their expectations.

This Copernican revolution must give rise to a new fiscal compact, based on three pillars. The first pillar is about reducing fiscal pressure on households and businesses through a reform in the name of fairness. I am referring, for example, to the gradual introduction of a family quotient, but also to extending the flat tax applicable to the self-employed with a VAT number, increasing the upper threshold from the current EUR 65 thousand in turnover to EUR 100 thousand, and, alongside this, taking steps for a flat tax, from introducing a flat tax on the increase in income compared with the maximum reached in the previous three years – a virtuous measure with a limited impact on the State’s coffers and that can provide a strong incentive for growth. 
The second pillar refers to a ‘tax truce’ to allow citizens and businesses, especially SMEs, in difficulty to settle their position with the tax authorities.
The final pillar refers to the targeted fight against tax evasion, which must start with complete evaders, large companies and large-scale VAT fraud; above all, this must be a real fight against tax evasion and not just a revenue hunt. This is why we intend to start by amending the criteria used to assess the Revenue Agency’s results; we want this criteria to be based on the amounts that are actually collected and not simply on the disputes, as has incredibly been the case until now.

For a long time now, businesses and workers have been asking for a reduction of the tax and social security contribution wedge, as a priority that cannot be postponed. The excessive tax burden on labour is one of the main barriers to job creation and the competitiveness of our companies on international markets. Our objective is to take gradual steps to achieve a reduction of at least five points of this wedge in favour of companies and workers, to lighten the former’s tax burden and increase the latter’s wages. To provide companies with incentives to hire more people, we are planning a fiscal mechanism that rewards labour-intensive activities – we have summed this up with “the more you hire, the less you pay” – although this obviously must not diminish the necessary support for technological innovation.

With regard to enterprise and labour, the dozens of crisis groups that are still ongoing come to mind, and we will dedicate our utmost efforts to these, to the thousands of self-employed workers that have not recovered following the pandemic. We want to provide them, who have often been unrightfully treated like children of a lesser God, with adequate protection, in line with the protection that is quite rightfully guaranteed to employees, because we have always stood by the almost five million self-employed workers in this country, including craftsmen, traders and freelance professionals, who are a cornerstone of the Italian economy, and we won’t stop now. For us, a worker is a worker. 

Adequate protection must also be provided to those going into retirement or who would like retire after working all their lives. We intend to make flexible retirement arrangements easier, with mechanisms that are compatible with the pension system, starting with the renewal of measures set to expire at the end of the year, in the short amount of time available for the next budget law. The priority for the future, however, must be a pension system that also acts as a guarantee for the younger generations and those who will only receive pension payments based on the contribution-based system; this is a social bomb that we continue to ignore, but in the future it will affect millions of today’s workers, who will find themselves with pension payments that are much lower than the already inadequate amounts received today.

We cannot ignore the issue of widespread poverty. His Holiness Pope Francis, whom I warmly greet, recently reaffirmed an important concept: “Poverty – he said -  is not fought with welfare; the door to a man's dignity is work”. This is a profound truth that only those who have known poverty first hand can really appreciate. This is the path we intend to follow: we want to maintain and, where possible, improve the economic support rightfully provided to those who really are vulnerable and unable to work – I am thinking of pensioners in difficulty, disabled people, for whom protection must in any case be increased, and also those who are without an income and have children to look after. These people will not be denied proper State aid. However, for other people who are able to work, the solution cannot be the ‘reddito di cittadinanza’ [‘citizenship income’] measure, but rather work, training and job support, also by making full use of the resources and opportunities provided by the European Social Fund. Considering how this measure has been designed and implemented, ‘citizenship income’ has been a defeat for those who were able to do their part for Italy, as well as for themselves and for their families. 

Although there may be different opinions on ‘citizenship income’ in this Chamber, I am certain that we all agree on the importance of putting a stop to the tragedy of workplace accidents and deaths. This is not a matter of introducing new regulations, but rather ensuring the existing ones are fully implemented because, as trade unions have reminded us, most recently during the rally last Saturday, we cannot accept that an 18-year-old boy like Giuliano De Seta – and I am naming him in memory of all victims – can go out to work and never come home again.

We must bridge the huge gap that exists between education and training and the skills required by the labour market, certainly through specific training courses but also, and more importantly, through school and university programmes paying more attention to labour market dynamics. Education is the most powerful tool to increase a country’s wealth, from all points of view, because physical capital is nothing without human capital.

This is why schools and universities will once again be a key focus for Government action, as they represent a fundamental strategic resource for Italy, for its future and for its young people. Our choice to relaunch the correlation between education and merit has caused controversy. I am frankly surprised by this. Several studies have shown that, today, those coming from wealthy backgrounds have more chance of making up for the shortcomings of a school system that has declined, whereas less well-off students are marred by an education that does not reward merit, as those shortcomings won’t be dealt with by anyone else.

Italy is not a country for young people. Over time, our society has become increasingly disinterested in their future, and even in the phenomenon of young people withdrawing from education and employment and the growing emergency of deviant behaviour – drugs, alcoholism, crime. The pandemic has definitely made this situation worse and, in the face of this concerning scenario, the main proposal from certain politicians over recent months has been to promise everyone legalised cannabis, as this was the easiest response. Unlike others, however, we are not here to do what’s easiest. We intend to: work on all-around growth for young people; promote artistic and cultural activities and, alongside these, sport, which is an extraordinary tool for social interaction, human formation and well-being; work on schooling, which is mostly entrusted to our self-sacrificing and talented teachers, who are often left alone to navigate their way through a sea of structural, technological and motivational shortcomings; guarantee decent salaries and protection measures and scholarships for those who deserve them; foster a culture of enterprise and special ‘honour’ loans. We owe it to these young people - we have taken everything away from them, leaving them with only debts to repay! We owe it to Italy, which was unified by the heroic young people of the Risorgimento 161 years ago and that can and must be rebuilt today by its young people’s enthusiasm and courage! 

We know that young people particularly care about defending the natural environment. We will take responsibility for this because, as Roger Scruton, one of the great masters of European conservative thought, wrote, environmental awareness is the most vivid example of the alliance between those who are here, those who were here and those who will come after us. We are committed to protecting our natural heritage just as we are committed to protecting the cultural heritage, traditions and spirituality we have inherited from the generations before us, so we can pass them on to our children. You won’t find a more convinced environmentalist than a conservative, but what distinguishes us from a certain ideological environmentalism is that we want to defend nature with people as part of it, combining environmental, economic and social sustainability. Accompanying businesses and citizens towards the green transition, without surrendering to new strategic dependencies, and while respecting the principle of technological neutrality: this will be our approach.

I believe I know the world of youth engagement really quite well - a wonderful training ground for life, regardless of what political ideas you may choose to defend and support. I must confess I will find it hard not to feel a hint of fondness also for those who’ll protest against the policies of our Government, because it will inevitably make me remember my own story too. I have taken part in very many rallies indeed, I have organised plenty of demonstrations in my life and I think that this has taught me much more than many other things have. So, I want to address my words also to those youngsters who will inevitably go out and protest against us. I wish to recall something that Steve Jobs used to say: “Stay hungry, stay foolish”. I would also like to add: Stay free, because the greatness of human beings lies in their free will.

There is another important educational institution, alongside schools and universities, which is perhaps the most important of them all, and that is of course the family, the core of our societies, cradle of affection and the place where each of our identities is formed. We intend to support and protect families and, with this, support the birth rate. In 2021, Italy recorded its lowest rate of births from its unification to date. To overcome this demographic glaciation and once again produce future years, that demographic GDP we need, a large-scale economic but also cultural plan is necessary, to rediscover the beauty of parenthood and put families back at the heart of society. We are therefore committed, as we also stated during the election campaign, to increase the amount of the ‘assegno unico universale’ [‘universal single allowance’] and to help young couples to get a mortgage to buy their first home, as well as gradually working towards the introduction of a family quotient. Considering that family projects go hand in hand with work, we in any case also want to incentivise female employment, rewarding companies that adopt policies that offer effective work-life balance solutions and supporting municipalities to guarantee free nursery schools that remain open until shops and offices close. Italy needs a new intergenerational alliance whose cornerstone is the family, strengthening the bond that unites generations – children with grandparents, young people with the elderly; the elderly must in turn be protected, valued and supported, as they represent our roots and our history. 

Montesquieu said that freedom is the right to enjoy every other right. Freedom is the foundation of a real society of opportunities; freedom is what must drive our actions – the freedom to be, to do, to produce. A centre-right government will never limit citizens’ and businesses’ existing freedoms. We will see, when the facts speak for themselves, who was lying and who was telling the truth during the election campaign about what our real intentions were, also regarding civil rights and abortion. 

Freedom. Freedom and democracy are the distinguishing features of contemporary European civilisation, and I have always identified myself with them. So, also with regard to this point, in spite of what has been claimed as a means to an end, I have never been fond of nor close to anti-democratic regimes; I am referring to any such regime, including fascism, just as I have always deemed the racial laws of 1938 to be the lowest point in Italian history – a disgrace that will leave its mark on our people forever.

The totalitarian regimes of the twentieth century tore apart the whole of Europe, not just Italy, for more than half a century, in a succession of horrors that affected most European countries. Horrors and crimes do not merit justifications of any kind, no matter who they are committed by, and they are not compensated for with other horrors and other crimes. In the abyss, you never get even: you fall and that’s it.

I was very young when I first experienced the scent of freedom, the longing for the historical truth and the rejection of any form of injustice and discrimination, precisely by joining Italy’s democratic right. A community of men and women who have always acted in the light of day and fully participated in our Republican institutions, even during the darkest years of criminalisation and political violence when innocent youngsters were battered to death with wrenches in the name of militant anti-fascism. That long period of mourning perpetuated the hatred of the civil war and pushed away the process to build peace, which the Italian democratic right has always hoped for, more than anyone else.

Since then, the political community I come from has continued to take steps forward, towards a full and informed process to consign the twentieth century to the history books; it has taken on important Government responsibilities, swearing on the Constitution of the Republic, as we had the honour of doing a short while ago. It has affirmed and embodied, without any ambiguity, the values of a liberal democracy, which form the basis of the Italian centre-right’s common identity, and which we will not deviate from, not even by a single centimetre. We will combat all forms of racism, anti-Semitism, political violence and discrimination.

Freedom was discussed a lot during the pandemic. COVID-19 entered our lives almost three years ago and caused the death of more than 177 thousand people in Italy. The fact we are out of the emergency for now is above all thanks to our healthcare workers and the professionalism and self-sacrifice with which they have saved thousands of lives. I wish to once again express our gratitude to them and, together with them, my thanks also go to the key workers, who never stopped, and to our extraordinary third sector, righteously representing those intermediate bodies we consider to be vital for society.

We unfortunately cannot exclude a new wave of COVID-19 or a new pandemic arising in the future, but we can learn from the past in order to be ready. Italy adopted the most restrictive measures in the entire western world, strongly limiting the fundamental freedoms of people and businesses. However, despite this, it recorded some of the worst figures in terms of deaths and contagion. Something certainly did not work and so I wish to say, right now, that under no circumstances will we replicate that model.
Correct information, prevention and getting people to act responsibly are more effective than coercion, in all fields, and listening to doctors in the field is more valuable than guidelines written by some bureaucrat when you are dealing with real-life patients. Above all, if citizens are asked to be responsible, the ones demanding that responsibility must be the first to demonstrate it. We need transparency regarding what happened during the management of the pandemic crisis: we owe it to those who lost their lives and to those who worked so hard in our hospitals, while others were making deals worth millions by buying and selling masks and ventilators.    

Legality will be the guiding light of this Government’s actions. I first got involved in politics at the age of 15, as many of you know by now, after the via D’Amelio bombing, when the Mafia killed Judge Paolo Borsellino. I got into politics then because I was driven by the idea that standing by and watching was not an option, and that all that anger and outrage had to somehow be turned into civic engagement. My journey to today being President of the Council of Ministers started with the example set by that hero. After officially reading the list of Ministers and coming here to meet with President [of the Chamber of Deputies] Fontana a few days ago, I arrived to Montecitorio and saw a photograph of Paolo Borsellino at the beginning and end of the staircase - I couldn’t help but think that I had come full circle.

We will tackle the mafia ‘cancer’ head-on, as we have been taught to do by the many heroes whose courage has set an example for all Italians, who refused to turn a blind eye or run away, even when they knew that their tenacity would probably cost them their lives. Judicial officers, politicians, police escort agents, military personnel, simple citizens, priests; giants like Giovanni Falcone, Francesca Morvillo, Rosario Livatino, Rocco Chinnici, Pio La Torre, Carlo Alberto Dalla Chiesa, Piersanti Mattarella, Emanuela Loi, Libero Grassi, Don Pino Puglisi, and, together with them, an incredibly long list of men and women we will never forget. We will be on the frontline in the fight against the mafia; criminals and members of mafia groups will meet only with contempt and inflexibility from this Government!

Legality also means a justice system that works, with effective parity between prosecution and defence and reasonable time frames for proceedings; this is not only a matter of legal culture and respect for citizens’ fundamental rights, but also one of economic growth. The slowness of our justice system costs us at least one GDP point per year, according to Banca d’Italia estimates. We will work so citizens can once again have the guarantee of living in a safe country, focusing back on the fundamental principle of the certainty of punishment, thanks also to a new prison plan. Since the beginning of this year, there have been 71 suicides in our prisons. This is unworthy of a civilised nation, as often are the working conditions of our prison officers. 

We will revise the judicial system reform with the same determination, to put an end to the logic of ‘inner groups pursuing their own priorities’, which is something that undermines the credibility of the Italian judicial authorities. Allow me to say something else: we have made a commitment to limit excessive margins of discretion in the youth justice system, with guaranteed and objective foster care and adoption procedures, ensuring the likes of the Bibbiano case never happen again. We intend to fulfil this commitment.

Italians are feeling the unbearable weight of unsafe cities, where there is no immediate protection and the absence of the State is tangible. We want to commit to bringing citizens closer to institutions again, and also to bringing the physical presence of the State back to every city. We want to make security a distinctive feature of this Government, alongside our public security forces, whom I wish to thank here today for the self-sacrifice with which they carry out their work, in often impossible conditions and with a State that has sometimes given the impression of being more supportive of those who undermine our security rather than those who risk their lives to guarantee it!

Security and legality of course also regard a correct management of migration flows, according to a simple principle: in Italy, as in any other serious nation, you do not enter illegally; you enter legally, through so-called ‘flow decrees’.

In recent years, there has been a terrible inability to find the right solutions to the various migration crises; too many men, women and children have died at sea while attempting to get to Italy. We have said “never again” far too many times, to only then repeat it time and time again. This Government therefore wants to pursue a path that has not been trodden much until now: stopping the illegal departures, finally breaking up human trafficking in the Mediterranean.

Our intention remains the same, but if you don’t want a naval blockade to be talked about, I’ll put it like this: it is our intention to go back to the original proposal of the European Union’s naval mission ‘Sophia’, the third phase of which involved blocking the departure of boats from North Africa; this third phase was planned but never implemented. We intend to propose this at EU level and implement it in accordance with North African authorities, accompanied by the creation of dedicated centres in Africa run by international organisations, where asylum applications can be screened to distinguish between those who have the right to be received in Europe and those who do not have that right, because we do not, in any way, intend to question the right to asylum for those fleeing war and persecution!
All we want to do with regard to the immigration issue is to stop the people smugglers being the ones to choose who enters Italy.

There will then be one thing left to do, which is perhaps the most important: remove the causes that lead migrants, especially the youngest among them, to leave their home country, their own cultural roots and their families to seek a better life in Europe. The 27 October will mark the sixtieth anniversary of the death of Enrico Mattei, a great Italian and one of the architects of the post-war reconstruction who was able to reach mutually convenient agreements with nations around the world. I believe that Italy must promote a ‘Mattei plan’ for Africa, a virtuous model of collaboration and growth between the European Union and African nations, also to combat the worrying spread of Islamist radicalism, especially in the Sub-Saharan region. In doing so, we would like to finally restore the strategic role that Italy has in the Mediterranean after years of the preference being to step back.

I shall now conclude, colleagues, thanking you of course for your patience. It won’t be plain sailing for this Government, which is about to ask for Parliament’s vote of confidence, not only given the seriousness of the choices we will be called upon to make, but also, let’s put it like this, due to the political prejudice that I often pick up on in analyses about us. I believe, however, that this is, partly, justified. After all, I am the first woman to be President of the Council of Ministers, I come from a political background that has often been relegated to the margins of Italian history and I did not get here because of favourable family ties or thanks to important friends; I am what English-speakers would call an underdog – someone who, to succeed, has to overturn all predictions. This is what I intend to continue doing, overturning the predictions, with the help of a valid team of Ministers and Undersecretaries, with the confidence and support of those who will choose to vote for us and with the criticism that will arrive from those who will vote against this Government because, at the end of this adventure, I am interested in one thing and one thing only: knowing that we did everything we could to give Italians a better nation. Sometimes we will succeed, sometimes we will fail, but be sure that we will not back down, we will not throw in the towel, we will not renege.

On the day our Government was sworn in by the Head of State, it was the liturgical memorial of John Paul II, a Pope, statesman and Saint whom I personally had the honour of meeting. He taught me something fundamental which I have always treasured: “Freedom – he used to say – consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought”. I have always been a free person, I will always be a free person, which is why I intend to do precisely what I ought to. 
Thank you.

[Courtesy translation]