As many readers may know, Italy held the Presidency of the Council of the European Union in the second half of 2014. It is now time for an account of what has been achieved. Our action focused on some key issues to enhance the political role of Europe and respond to the demands of European citizens and the challenges emerging from the international scenario.
Further, an important result was contributing to the European institution by the appointment of our Foreign Minister, The Hon. Federica Mogherini, as High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice President of the Commission.
Italy has presided over difficult economic conditions in Europe, with the aim to boost growth and elaborate new policies matching growth and investment, whose effects will be seen in the coming months. The President of the EU Commission, Mr. Jean-Claude Juncker, launched a new action plan that will be game-changing in creating new employment opportunities around the continent and provide tangible benefits to European citizens. A massive 315 billion Euro will be invested in three years. In this framework, some national voluntary contributions to the European Fund for Strategic Investments will not affect a country’s debt position.
The Italian Presidency has worked tirelessly to create a new strategy to face the challenges posed by an increased flow of migrants from African and Middle-Eastern countries, with the goal of overhauling the present emergency-based approach. The following three new measures were introduced. Reinforcing of external borders controls and strengthening of the Frontex program; enhancing cooperation with the countries from where migrants originate or transit to; coordinating controls by national authorities, including a system of fingerprints collection and sharing. A renewed conscience that individual States borders are also EU borders emerged and as a result the joint operation, Triton, was introduced to control illegal migrants ships along the European maritime borders. Furthermore, initiatives to both integrate national migration policies and external borders actions were undertaken. They included a new set of political dialogue meetings involving the countries of origin and transit of migrants, examples of these being two major International Conferences involving both North-western and Eastern African States.
Human rights and fundamental freedoms were also at the forefront of the Italian Presidency. In fact in December, the European Council reached an agreement to hold an annual dialogue amongst Member States to promote and uphold the rule of law in the European Union. Supporting an international moratorium on the death penalty, fighting organized crime, enhancing freedom of expression, respect for minorities, gender equality and non-discrimination of those most vulnerable components of national societies were confirmed as general principles of the European law, necessary to create a favourable environment and instrumental for economic and social development.Furthermore, the Italian Presidency presented a well-structured report aimed at improving the mechanisms of the EU, making it more democratic and effective.
The Italian Presidency has lead European institutions to ensure a unified and cohesive response in the many International crises that arose during the last six months. Regarding Ukraine, Italy has acted as a moderator amongst the different positions adopted by Member States, in order to both respect the independence and territorial integrity of Ukraine while maintaining an open channel for dialogue with Moscow. Significant progress was made during the ASEM Summit in Milan, despite a very complex situation and many conflicting interests.A lot of attention was devoted to Mediterranean countries engaged in a difficult process of transition after the so-called Arab Spring. To better define the assistance that Europe can offer to its Mediterranean partners, the investment coordination initiative “FRIENDS” was endorsed and became operational, while a new common strategy for maritime security highlighted strategic European interests in the area.
Furthermore, Italy has worked to give new impetus to the EU enlargement process, bringing forward negotiations for the accession of Montenegro to the Union. Steps were taken to ensure a deeper engagement of Eastern European countries, through the adoption of a common strategy for the Adriatic-Ionian region. Future EU action will focus in the areas of “blue economy”, connectivity infrastructures, energy, environment and tourism.
The Italian Presidency has promoted the advancement of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), a comprehensive trade agreement to be negotiated between the European Union and the United States. TTIP will represent a cornerstone in the efforts to revitalize the economic environment in Europe and will be instrumental in opening a new phase in globalization, to be characterized by a more equal distribution of the benefits of economic growth.
Other issues tackled in the past six months included the Ebola crisis, increasing numbers of “foreign fighters” in Syria, aid and humanitarian assistance to developing countries.
Improving competitiveness and combating social exclusion were top priorities during the Italian Presidency. Both a strategic plan to enhance the social dimension of the European Monetary Union and a program of action to exploit opportunities arising from the growth of the digital economy were implemented. Strengthening the production capacity in Europe goes through a renewed industrial policy that favours small and medium enterprises, protects Intellectual property rights and gives adequate attention to product quality. Within this framework, a new Directive on Genetically Modified Organisms was adopted which gives Member States substantial freedom in regulating the usage of GMOs. Further, significant progress has been made in strengthening the protection of trademarks and fighting against counterfeiting. This is of particular importance in order to prevent entry into the EU of counterfeit beverage and food items, as they often represent a threat to the health and safety of citizens. A thorough study of the issue of certifying the origin of a product (the so-called “Made In”) was also launched.
A great success of the Italian Presidency was the identification of new targets to protect our natural environment. In October, Member States agreed upon a reduction of 40% in carbon emissions, an increase in renewable energy production and energy efficiency. Measures were adopted to further limit and regulate the use of plastic bags, composition of fuels and pollution created by ships. Having stated such a strong commitment towards a cleaner planet, the EU is now in the position of playing a leading role on the global stage on issues such as climate change and the implementation of the Kyoto Protocol.
Italy is proud of the many outcomes of its Presidency, and of its commitment to create a financially sound, socially engaged European Union both within its borders and towards its neighbours, yet one that is firm on its response to illegal migration: in short, we moved forward towards a better, stronger and wealthier European Union.