President-designate of the European Commission,
Incoming President of the European Central Bank,
Ladies and gentlemen,
I am truly delighted to be here today as well to thank President Mario Draghi for his extraordinary commitment to serving Europe and to express to incoming President, Christine Lagarde, my best wishes and great confidence in her for the responsibilities she is about to assume.
Today’s ceremony also represents an opportunity for reflection: because in fact twenty years have passed since the creation of the European Central Bank and the results we have seen are definitely positive.
Mario Draghi accepted the baton from Jean-Claude Trichet, in a moment of great change, after the first ten years of single currency characterized by relatively stable economic conditions with moderate and constant growth which the Bank has encouraged and guided.
A first decade during which the Institution succeeded in building its credibility around the goal of containing inflation ensuring-in line with the goal set-that it remain around 2%.
In 2011, however, the impact of the financial crisis forced the EU, and primarily the ECB, to “change gears”.
The challenge, in fact, soon became an existential one: defeating the perception of a possibility, if not of the risk, of the dissolution of the very same Euro system.
A possibility and a risk which today we can consider eradicated.
During the sovereign debt crisis, with its effects on banks and businesses—and, more recently, when inflation was excessively low—the ECB, in fact, knew how to respond with continually innovative instruments; which were often widely debated.
It refused to behave like an entity rigidly limited by predefined mechanisms, whatever the situation might be, but showed, in respect to these, intelligence and ability to react, without passively suffering the consequences. It always maintained itself strictly within the mandate assigned to it.
It never lost sight of the limitations of a single currency and, at the same time, of the pressing invitation to act through “other” channels like fiscal policy and structural reforms. Because—as the President of the Bank has often pointed out—it is not possible to place an excessive burden on monetary policy.
Once out of the darkest phase it was necessary that the EU “secure” the European economy and, above all, that it guide its definitive recovery, in terms of growth and job creation.
Its responses were important and wide ranging, recognizing the need for initiatives on the part of all EU Institutions.
The complex architecture of the single currency was reinforced, common regulations on government budgets were strengthened, the European Stability Mechanism was created, the banking system was revised, with the Single Supervisory Mechanism, setting at the same time, both the Single Resolution Mechanism for any bank crisis as well as a safeguard on the European level for deposits even if a common insurance system for these is still to be completed.
Mario Draghi, in these eight years, has been authoritatively at the service of a more solid and inclusive Europe, interpreting the defense of the single currency as a battle to be conducted with determination against the forces which wanted its dissolution.
Fighting with courage. A rational courage, because always supported by analysis and research which came from the Institution itself, from the Council as a whole; in a context which is, by its nature, characterized by uncertainty in the reactions of the single parties and the markets. Courage associated with the ability to listen to dissent and criticism, but also to highlight the contribution of those who know how to challenge well-established views.
Today we can say that the European economic system is more solid. Employment has grown and is on average higher than in 1999. The banking system is more compact. Integration between economies, and therefore the convergence between Member States, is high, but above all – and this represents one of the greatest results in recent years—popular support for the Euro has gone back to being particularly high.
Today’s gathering is also an occasion to reflect on the state of this great work in progress which is Europe, and in particular on that which remains to be done, in particular towards reinforcing the Eurozone.
We must not forget that competition with the great economic areas of the world has become very strong, and that size—even more than in the past—is an indispensable element to be able to influence the course of events for the protection of our society and of its citizens.
Completing the “European work in progress” has become—in today’s context—an essential necessity if the EU genuinely wants to become a “global player”.
On February 22nd, this year, the University of Bologna awarded Mario Draghi an honorary degree. I would like to repeat some words from his keynote address: “In today’s world, technological, financial and commercial interlinkages are so powerful that only the very largest countries are able to be independent and sovereign at the same time, and even they cannot do so entirely”.
He also added: “The European Union is the institutional framework that has allowed the Member States to be sovereign in many areas. It is a shared sovereignty, which is preferable to none at all”.
I would like to make these statements my own because in the EU lies the protection of the sovereignty of the European countries.
The quantity and quality of the passages and speeches necessary to face the current state of the world need a further and responsible “change of gears”, which must include the European Parliament, a voice for the peoples of Europe.
We must, all, have courage.
I don’t believe it was easy for President Draghi to state, in the midst of the full blown crisis, the words: “whatever it takes”.
All of this is necessary, until it remains necessary, for the good of Europe and generations to come.
It is what absolutely must be done.
Professor Draghi, dear Mario,
as a European citizen I wish to say thank you.