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Speech by Mr. Giorgio Napolitano XX Pontignano Conference

Siena, 21/09/2012

Mr. Chairman,

it was very kind of you and Giuliano Amato to invite me to be here and take the floor as a veteran - I suppose - of the Pontignano Conference. Yes, as a matter of fact, I had the chance to attend the first edition of this Conference, promoted and chaired by Ralph Dahrendorf. For several years, I tried not to miss our September rendezvous in Siena and Pontignano. Much later, when it became more difficult for me to attend, Ralph wrote to me, very generously : "Your belief in the venture, and then your loyalty, helped greatly to turn a fortuitous moment into a lasting achievement." It was September 2002 when he wrote me that letter, and he had just handed over the chairmanship of Pontignano to Chris Patten.

Yes, I think we had good reasons at that point to consider Pontignano a lasting achievement. And it is still lasting and vital, after 10 more years, as we can see today.

The secret of this success is, in my opinion, to have conceived the Pontignano Conference as a forum, variously and richly representative of our two countries and at the same time unofficial, and not, in any sense, partisan. We had therefore the possibility not only to discuss freely, to exchange frank personal opinions on any issue of common interest previously chosen by a preparatory board, but above all to get to know each other more deeply, to better understand the respective peculiarities of our societies, their historical roots and their evolution. For this reason Pontignano has undoubtedly exemplified how to strengthen and animate, inject life and warmth into Italian-British relations. Within a European framework, in a truly European spirit.

Pontignano succeeded first of all because it was inspired and for a long time guided by a European par excellence like Ralph Dahrendorf.
Let me take this occasion to pay tribute to the great scholar and public figure that he was. His unique European journey - from the Bundestag and the European Commission, where he was appointed by the German government, to the London School of Economics and finally to the House of Lords - marked his life and also gave him a special position to guide our discussions in Pontignano.
When the "venture" of Pontignano started, Ralph was - I remember very well - passionately following institutional and political developments in Italy, after the collapse of the Party-system which had been governing this country for 45 years. Following his broad and open European vision, he shared with many Italians the hope that a positive change was about to take place through a radical electoral reform and other significant innovations.
In the following years at least a normal rotation in power between opposite political parties or coalitions was established in Italy ; but in October 1998, Ralph expressed to me - in a personal letter - the fear that we could be "back to the familiar picture of crisis", and he added that he was "worried about cutting the tender thread of stability" which had resisted until that moment. "It is so important" - this was his conclusion - "for Italy and for Europe that a degree of institutional reliability is maintained" in Rome. Well, that recommendation still keeps its value, and I want to renew my gratitude to Ralph Dahrendorf for the attention and sympathetic understanding he offered to Italy.
But let's come to Pontignano 2012, and to its programme. Obviously, it's not up to me to suggest an answer to the big question which is addressed to all of us "UK and Italy : do we share the same future?" The answers will come, I am sure, from the plenary sessions and workshops which will take place until Sunday. I simply want to make a few remarks.

First. The question is clearly related to the context of the European Union. There is no need to recall all the responsibilities the UK and Italy have been sharing and continue to share in so many fields, first of all within NATO and more generally in the international arena. Our countries have been, and are, strongly attached to their active and loyal participation in NATO as founding members, they share the same spirit of friendship and solidarity with the United States, they both have always supported all of the principles and causes of the United Nations. We have been, and are, on the same line fighting terrorism, and participating with conviction and a spirit of sacrifice in international missions in crucial areas of crisis.

I could go on, but the Pontignano Conference is focused on our distinct or common positions as regards the European Union, its main problems and dilemmas and its future. And for sure it is not the first time in the history of this Conference. Not only I, but many of you, remember well how constantly and up to which extent we have been discussing in Pontignano, year after year, European issues or European aspects of world problems. Then, what is new this year? It seems to me that there really is something new : the consciousness of a turning point which is drawing closer in the evolution of the Union, in the development of the European integration process. This is the point : the global crisis, and the crisis of the Eurozone, have dramatically highlighted the contradictions between deciding the creation of Euro, the birth of the ECB, the adoption - by 17 member States of the Union - of a common monetary policy, and leaving unaccomplished other dimensions of the Economic and Monetary Union itself. National governments and European institutions are being pushed, not by an ideological scheme but by crude facts, towards a leap forward on the road to integration, including political integration. This is the future about which we honestly ask ourselves whether or not UK and Italy will share it.

Let's be clear. Nobody can be surprised by the present attitude of the United Kingdom - which is at least very doubtful and detached - about the options now on the table for the integration process.

We cannot forget the differences which emerged with the UK from the first moment in which the project of a European Community was conceived and outlined by Jean Monnet in the 1949 conversations with his British friends : he easily understood that the idea of transferring any part of British sovereignty was "totally alien to their philosophy". And in fact the Schuman Declaration and the first European Community didn't receive the adhesion of the United Kingdom.

At the same time, it's impossible not to recall how the highest British voice, the voice of Winston Churchill, had been heard in Zurich, in 1946, and in The Hague, in 1948, strongly advocating the "re-creation of the European family in a regional structure called, it may be, the United States of Europe", although citing "Great-Britain, the British Commonwealth, mighty America, and I trust, Soviet Russia" (Churchill was speaking in 1946) as "friends and sponsors of the new Europe". It was a formidable encouragement indeed : but from outside.

Excuse me. I do not intend to go too far and too superficially back into the past, but I wish to underline the extreme complexity which historically - well before the 20th century - characterized the relationship between the United Kingdom and Europe, and still has its weight. The finest analysis of that complexity can be found - in my opinion - in a book written ten years ago by an eminent, thoughtful supporter and servant of a united Europe, Tommaso Padoa Schioppa.
He wrote about the feelings of continental Europeans towards the United Kingdom - before and after London decided to join, with its own viewpoints and precautions, the European Community - and described a mixed feeling of desire and disappointment. Desire to incorporate, in the process of European unification, the heritage of political wisdom, pragmatism and civic virtues Great Britain has accumulated over the centuries. Without neglecting, of course, a feeling of gratitude for a country which represented a bulwark in defence of individual and political liberties against dictatorship in Europe's darkest decades. But the desire to include the United Kingdom in the process of European integration was mixed with feelings of disappointment and disillusion over the persistent distrust if not downright hostility, towards European unification, traditionally diffused in British elites and, indeed, in the population in general.

I've been simplifying Padoa Schioppa's much richer analysis, but I want to emphasize its conclusion, which today is more challenging then ever : is British reluctance compatible with the further advancement of integration? As regards Italy, it doesn't wish for any aut aut - take it or leave it - in relations between Europe and the UK ; it is trying today to cultivate all possible grounds for entente, on a bilateral basis and within the framework of the Union. But as we seriously ponder the qualitative importance of British experience, culture and values for a truly comprehensive and well-balanced European unification, can we expect some fresh reconsideration on the British side?
Is this not the moment to recognize realistically that the special position of the UK in the system of international relations - including its special relationship with the United States - and the unique role of the City or of the Pound, cannot justify a detached attitude and almost a self-isolation of Great Britain in front of the unavoidable evolution of the European Union? "We cannot stand still - Jean Monnet wrote as far back as 1976 - when around us the whole world is moving". And how much, since then, it has moved : transforming itself into a globalized world, in which a radical shift, away from Europe, of the centre of gravity of economic growth and of international relations, has created an undeniable risk of irrelevance or marginalisation for Europe. Can the United Kingdom consider itself immune from such a risk? Or should we feel committed together to reaffirm the role of Europe, of its historical experience and its dynamism, in the world of today and of tomorrow? To reaffirm and renew such a role in the only possible way, that is to say by fully uniting Europe, its energies and its institutions?

I realize I am simply raising more questions, or sub-questions. Let me conclude, then, by expressing my faith in the future of an evermore united Europe. Because we certainly cannot resign ourselves to share a future of common decline.