“If Europe was to take a selfie today, it would be a tired, resigned image," said Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi in a debate with MEPs on his country's priorities for the Council presidency for the next six months. He said European leaders should act with conviction and determination to keep Europe in the lead on global issues. The debate on 2 July touched upon a broad range of issues, from the Italian contribution to Europe through the ages to the place of Europe in a fast-changing world.
Mr Renzi acknowledged that the crisis had left all of us with a "deep wound", saying Europe faced a challenge to rediscover its soul, history and values. Referring to the Stability and GRowth pact, he said: "We now have stability. We are asking for growth to be a fundamental element of European policy."
José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, welcomed Italy's reform agenda and pledged to support "the main themes of the incoming presidency: growth, citizens, external action". He said that not long ago "many Cassandras were predicting the implosion of the euro [...] now we have the conditions to make Europe able to generate the jobs that our young people need.”
EPP leader Manfred Weber, from Germany, spoke of the lessons learned from the crisis. "One of the lessons is that we should regulate financial markets and the second is that debts destroy the future.”
Gianni Pittella, the Italian leader of the S&D group, called for flexibility in applying the Stability and Growth pact and for solidarity in dealing with migratory flows. "Europe was born as an expression of solidarity," he said. "We need to put the solidarity into action."
Syed Kamall, the British leader of the ECR group, called for transparent negotiations on trade agreements and stressed the need to reduce the EU's energy “overdependence from regimes that do not share our values, whether in the Middle East or Russia”.
Guy Verhofstadt, the Belgian leader of the ALDE group, said the EU should be used as an engine of growth by expanding the internal market into energy, digital sector, telecommunications and capital markets. Italy is “the basis of our civilisation, our history, our culture and our Europe”, he pointed out.
Barbara Spinelli, an Italian member of the GUE/NGL group, called for "a complete overhaul of the Union" and a "European new deal". She spoke against the EU-US free trade agreement, saying: "These neo-liberal dogmas clearly haven't worked."
Philippe Lamberts, the Belgian co-chair of the Greens, praised the passion and energy of the Italian prime minister and expressed hope to see these qualities put into action during the presidency.
Ignazio Corrao, an Italian member of the EFDD group, attacked the EU-US free trade agreement that is being negotiated, saying: "[If] multinationals can go to court against national governments, then we will really have achieved the most perverse dream of globalisation - governments controlled by markets."
Matteo Salvini, an Italian MEP who is not a member of one of the political groups, criticised Mr Renzi for focusing on humanitarian needs elsewhere, while forgetting about the poor in the EU.
Debate on Greek presidency
Earlier on Wednesday, MEPs heard Greek prime minister Antonis Samaras present the achievements of the outgoing Council presidency. Mr Samaras cited progress on forming Europe’s banking union, improving border and migration management and laying foundations for jobs and growth.
"Europe worked. Our union has problems, but it also has the capacity to solve those problems and go ahead," Mr Samaras said. Even though Greece and the EU as a whole had been "seriously challenged" over the past three years, people across the Union managed to show solidarity and the ability to change to become more competitive, he added.