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Tajani: “small homelands are anachronistic.” Relaunching the Europe of values and solidarity

In his address at the event "(Re)thinking Europe", in the presence of Pope Francis, the President of the EU Parliament spoke about principles and identities, of providing answers to citizens’ concrete problems, of employment, migration, security. The need – at a time of nationalisms and populisms – to transmit the “noble values” of political life that should be met with “an examination of conscience” on the part of the ruling class. The secular nature of public institutions and the presence of the churches in the public realm

“To reinforce the sense of belonging to our project we have to give the people of Europe concrete responses to the issues that worry them the most: terrorism, illegal immigration, youth unemployment. Strong European unity is needed, along with tools that measure up to our goals. We have to reform Europe, not destroy it.” Antonio Tajani, 64, serving as MEP since 1994, former EU Commissioner for Transport and for Industry, elected President of the European Parliament past January, addressed several issues in the speech delivered on October 28 in the Vatican in the presence of Pope Francis on the occasion of the dialogue forum on “(Re)thinking Europe”. Tajani, a staunch Europeanist, acknowledged Europe’s stalemate. “A Europe without values is a Europe without a conscience and without an identity.”

Mr. President, let us return to some of the problems you raised at the Conference “(Re)thinking Europe”. You addressed a set concrete problems needing to be solved, you spoke of values and identity. What is the ideal path to revitalize the Community project?

I believe we should keep together the “noble” prospect of values with the answers that need to be given to citizens’ needs, so they may rediscover the EU’s purpose and “vocation”, of which we objectively cannot do without. The primary needs of our citizens, youths and families are employment, secure wages, and social security.

Job creation requires that EU and European Countries focus on real economy

And not on finance: a tool that specifically pertains to the economic system. That is why I continue stressing the need to strengthen our production system, especially the manufacturing sector. But we have been making progress also on other fronts. We will soon inaugurate the “social pillar” of the EU in Goteborg. A number of provisions have already been adopted while many more are in the pipeline. In this respect the European Parliament is leading the way.

What about terrorism?

The latent dangers and the concerns raised by ongoing news of attacks, in Europe and in the rest of the world, are plain to all. There is widespread fear of the outbreak of war near our European borders. We are faced with a constant threat, that extends from our capital cities to the United States, from the Middle East to Africa. Closer cooperation at European level in the area of defence and counter-terrorism can provide concrete results and brighten everyday life.

And migration… ?

In my address at the Vatican I underlined that in the management of migration inflows Europe must not lose sight of the importance of human dignity. Those fleeing war and violence – I said in my speech – must receive the protection to which they are entitled in the Union, backed by solidarity coming from EU Member States. Clearly, this phenomenon cannot be shouldered by a handful of Countries, primarily by Italy. In our capacities as EU Parliament we have obliged the Commission to initiate infringement proceedings against Countries that failed to show solidarity: Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic. Furthermore, we are exerting political pressure to reform the Dublin system and provide for the automatic relocation of refugees across EU Countries. We also need to counter trafficking and illegal migration whilst furthering the controlled immigration of qualified people to be integrated in our societies and in the labour market, with regular wages and labour protection. No more prostitution! Enough with the illegal employment of farm workers in tomato fields at 12 Euros a day!

You have been repeatedly highlighting the need to ensure Africa’s economic development and political stability …

Indeed, it involves facing the root causes of migration flows by furthering development and creating future prospects in Africa. Billions of Euros should be invested in the economy, in the fight on poverty, in healthcare, whilst sustaining democratic processes and political stability. The latter are veritable antidotes to wars and violence afflicting too many Countries of our continent.

Identity, nationalisms, particularisms: these themes were repeatedly broached by participants in “(Re)thinking Europe”, albeit with varying emphases. What is your opinion?

“I think that those small homelands that some wish to confine themselves into, are meaningless and anachronistic. Catalonia is a blatant example.

I support the United States of Europe, where different identities and homelands come together in the common European home.

It’s a question of acting in unison to achieve goals that no Country could achieve on its own. I want to point out that this is also the time to relaunch the European dream, to transmit the great ideals to our youths. Having a mobile phone is not enough… In the 1960s and the 1970s, despite misunderstandings and exaggerations, young people had something to believe in, they believed in social commitment, in volunteering, in the value of politics. Those aspects should be rediscovered. The fundamental value of religion in the public domain is set within this framework. I have a clear understanding of the secular nature of public institutions, but as we all know it is equally important to safeguard the freedom of worship and enhance the presence of religious communities in our Countries in the social and educational realms, in relationships and at the level of solidarity. Some areas of secularism tend to deny this understanding, but it would mean distorting human beings, as Pope Francis constantly reminds us.

One last question. There is great talk of Europe’s crisis, a crisis in European politics. Indeed, the political life of citizens, regions and at national level, show no signs of dynamism … In your address in the presence of the Holy Father, you recalled the need “to establish the primacy of politics”, to guarantee democracy and human rights. Could you comment on this?

I firmly believe that it is necessary to rediscover Politics (with a capital P). It should be rediscovered by adults. We need to display concrete tokens of its value before our youths. In this respect, the family, the school environment, associations, religious communities, play an important role. Let is suffice to mention the theme of tolerance, the fight on radicalization, not to mention fundamental rights… But the political class must make a serious examination of conscience. Political leaders must act in utter transparency , competence, and for the common good. This should be the first step to rekindle the enthusiasm of youths and of all citizens in the “public good.”

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