A Conversation With Matteo Renzi

Tuesday, September 20, 2016
Tony Gentile/Reuters

Prime Minister of Italy Matteo Renzi joins CFR’s Blair Effron to discuss the political and economic issues facing Italy and the European Union. Renzi discusses the upcoming constitutional referendum in Italy and emphasizes the importance of reforms throughout Europe. Renzi discusses Italy’s defense institutions, migration in Europe, and terrorism.

EFFRON: Good afternoon. I’m Blair Effron, and I have the pleasure of welcoming back to the Council Prime Minister Matteo Renzi of Italy. Thank you for being here, sir. And of course, thanks to all of our members for being here today, both those of you in the room and those of you remotely. We’ll start off with some remarks from the prime minister, then he and I will have a bit of a conversation, and then we’ll open it up to questions from our members.

As most everyone knows, Mr. Renzi has held several leadership positions in Italy, and—elected prime minister in 2014 at age 39. Is it fair to say that your medical records are not an issue with your press? (Laughter.)

In any event, in the less than three years he has been prime minister, he’s frankly been a force for reform—everything from modernizing the structure of government to implementing a set of pro-business economic policies, fighting social inequality and taking a very practical but sensitive approach to immigration. While doing all of this, he’s forged close relationships with leaders globally and across the political spectrum. As our own president has remarked, I’ve been impressed with the energy and the vision and the reforms that Prime Minister Renzi is pursuing. President Obama further added, his willingness to challenge the status quo has made Prime Minister Renzi a leading voice in Europe.

That said, the prime minister does lead at a time of turbulence, both in Italy and in Europe. Italy’s economy, the eurozone’s third-largest, remains challenged—less than 1 percent growth over a period of successive years; unemployment stubborn at 11 percent, particularly acute with a younger population; and a quite high debt-to-GDP.

Now, frankly, as with many companies and many countries across the globe, political pressures in Italy continue to mount, and an anxious population has given rise to the Five Star party. An upcoming constitutional referendum, still too close to call, will have significant ramifications, both for the prime minister and for his ability to continue his great set of reforms.

With that, Prime Minister, we welcome your remarks, and we look forward to a conversation. (Applause.)

RENZI: Thank you so much. Distinguished guests, it’s a great, great pleasure and honor to be here again. For an Italian prime minister, it’s not usual to come back after two years because—(laughter)—you smile. I am not—(chuckles)—I am not very, very happy for that because, in Italy, 70 years after World War II, 63 governments. And this is one of the problem of my country, because the lack of stability, as you said, was one of the problem. Thank you so much so for your (visibility ?) to discuss about the future here. And thank you so much, Richard, for the next—the new invitation. And let me be very, very brief in the introduction, brief remark.

I really—I really—I discussed a lot with the team, if start from the very great framework, global framework, and a very concrete approach two years later, the first meeting here. And I tried to combine together. If you think about two years ago, a lot of things are changed in Italy, yes; in Europe. But let me be very clear, also United States. I don’t know how many of you two years ago considered possible—this is not question of votes—consider possible if Donald Trump could run for the presidency. This is not polemics; it’s a consideration. We live in the time of big data, but it’s not easy to focus a very great decision of politics.

Two years ago a lot of discussions about the role of Russia around the world, about the sense of identity of Europe and the relation with migration. The real position of some of leaders of the single member states of EU are totally different from today, totally different. The very rapid—the very quickly changed—quick change in the politics is, in my view, in my mind, an effect of the real change of the life day by day; everything changed very quickly and very deeply. And I don’t know if this is good or not good, but this is a reality.

The image in my mind is the internet, social media, and new technologies. We can consider two different model: the model of Snapchat, a very simple message, particularly for the young people, who after 24 years (sic) was canceled. Not tracked in theory—I don’t know, maybe also not in theory—but no records, nothing. Twenty-four years (sic) and all is canceled. And at the same time, there is a great question about internet innovation, about the longevity and the right of memory and the tracks. Just one week ago in Italy, one young girl killed herself because she left on the—on the Net, on the Web, a bad video about her. So this is the symbol of a world in which we can consider the very deeply and quickly change, you cancel everything, and nobody remember what happened two years ago, two months ago, and everything change very, very strongly and very rapidly, and, at the same time, the necessity of a long investment on the future.

I start from here exactly to give a message about the real point important for my country in this moment, and then I conclude the remark with the list of result achieved.

The real question in this moment for my country—but I think not only for my country, and they very appreciated this morning the speech of President Obama in the United Nations General Assembly—is exactly a division between the people who think the future is a place of hope and the people who think the future is a threat, place of preoccupations. The generation of my father think future will be better, every day, and also the generation of my grandfather. And maybe the American Dream, believe that: if you work hard, if we are strong, you can build a different future, a better future.

Now the situation in the debates, particularly in Europe but in my country this is true—this is particularly true, it’s different because the future is considered from a part a possible preoccupation, a possible threat. And the father and grandfather are worried for the future of the children: oh, internet; oh, artificial intelligence; oh, cyber technology; oh, cyber new will create a world without job, a jobless society. And what is the security for my children?

This is the point. If we invest in the fear, we are finished. A part of European leaders in this moment invest in the fear. They build walls. But if we remember, Europe was built in the moment of failure of walls, not of the building of walls. I consider the place for the future of my country in the capacity to build bridge, not walls—bridge between generations, bridge between different ideas, dialogue between different identities, with the very strong ourness of our identity, with not the lack of sense of belong but is the sense of belong to great history who need the future.

So this is the clear and real point for the next years in Italy and also in Europe. For this reason, when I spoke—I speak about terrorism, I don’t speak only about the reaction in terms of security, cybersecurity, cyber technology, police, but I speak also about culture, education. Because when I think about what happened in this period in the capitals of France—in the capitals of Europe—in Paris and Brussels, and in other cities in our continent about terrorists’ attack, I know the killer come not from Syria, come not from Libya; come from Subares (ph), from Balliere (ph), from our cities. So we need a great, huge investment in the identity, in the culture, in the education. Our stability law, our budget law, decided in 2016, as I—for the moment only in Italy, but I hope in the future in every country of Europe—for every euro for security, for cybersecurity, for technology, for police, the same euros for theater, for education, for sport, for culture, because this is a part of reaction if we believe in the future as a place of hope and not only in the pace of threat.

This is the framework, very briefly. President Obama explained very better than me in—this morning in the United Nation(s) General Assembly. But this is the division. And a—(inaudible)—of economists just some weeks ago present that between two different vision of world.

So the future, in my mind, is not right against left. It’s fear against courage. It is fear against—fear against possibility to radical change our life.

Obviously, this discussion is impossible if Italy don’t look about the situation of today. Two years ago here, I presented you a list of possible reforms. A lot of you, I remember, looked at me as a crazy man. I remember very well. (Laughter.) Don’t joke about it, I remember. (Laughter.) Oh, this is the president of council of minister, prime minister number 27, who proposed a reform of constitution, of public administration and justice, the jobs markets. So, I’m here, two year (alpha ?). I decide to avoid the presence last year to complete the package. And I show you some results, because I think one problem of my beautiful country is the lack of word, one word.

So let me be very clear: I think Italy is the best country around the world in term of beauty and the quality of life, and a lot of things, and so I haven’t problem of benchmark. I consider my country one of the most incredible and amazing place. But it’s—it’s my job, but I believe in that. (Laughter.)

But I think we have a lot of problems. One problem is the lack of one word. This word is “accountability.” If you think, with a search in the Italian vocabulary, what is accountability, nobody knows the translation. It’s a very great, very—it is a—(laughs)—very funny thing, but unfortunately it is true. So “accountability” is a language not present—is a word not present in Italy. I’m here to show you a very brief list in the name of accountability.

Jobs Act, reform of labor markets. I copied the name to President Obama. I asked the authorization of President Obama. (Laughter.) He told me, don’t worry, is open source, OK. (Laughter.) And today, after two years in the (alpha ?), the numbers of new jobs in Italy are more than half million—585,000 jobs. This depend of Jobs Act, the reform of labor markets. Two years ago here, the was a ghost in the Italian discussion, the Article 18, Articulo Diciotto, a particular expression in the Italian debate. Now is not on the table, and the Jobs Act is done.

A reform of public administration. It’s not easy, but we invest a lot of digitalization. Not only fire the public employers who don’t respect the law—and this, in Italy, seems incredible, unbelievable, and now is normality—but at the same time a great investment in in digitalization. I really—I really glad to host in my office to call with me Italian guy who served for a lot of period in the United States, served as more correctly a businessman, a manager, Diego Piacentini. He became a very important manager before of Apple, and then of Amazon. He told me, there is an expression in America, is “giving back”—giving back something to my community, so I already for two years—he left Amazon and the very good money of Amazon and, pro bono—because I’m not competitive with my friend Jeff Bezos in terms of salary—and with pro bono he served now as commissioner for digitalization of public administration in Italy.

Third, very important for me, the constitutional reform and institutional reform—very, very simply, an easy system. Today, in Italy, we have only in Italy a system with the stability of government depend of two different—two different chambers—Camera dei Deputati, Senato della Repubblica. And there is a terrible ping-pong between the two chambers. And this is one reason for which we changed 63 government on 70 years. Now, in the next weeks, we will go to referendum after the decision of senators to reduce the number of senator. And this is incredible, if you think about it. First time in Italian history, but I think not only Italian history, in which a man reduce the chairs, the places—a politician, not only a man—a politician reduce the chair. It’s fantastic. (Laughter.) It’s turkey who decide that Thanksgiving is before. It’s more or less. (Laughter.) More or less is the same, eh?

We invest in the justice—civil justice. Italy was the country—the worst country in terms of timeline for the process of trials. The situation is not good, until today. It is not good. But is better. It’s better than two years ago. And we are the number-one in terms of your digitalization of courts. I think the future is the digitalization, not the traditional process. If there is here men and women who love Alessandro Manzoni, you can remember Azzecca-garbugli, the very great page of Promessi Sposi. But this system is totally different. And we invest in digitalization and we invest in an approach different.

And I can continue, with finance for growth. I can continue with infrastructure. We launch a great plan for broadband in Italy because we think the revolution of infrastructure will give us in the next months a gigabyte society. And I can continue with the reform of comparative banks who bring back—more correctly—we cut the traditional system of bank, very focused on the vote of the single politician of directory. But I stop my list, and I give the message, the final message.

The final message for Italy is exactly that: If we change, we are ready to change Europe. And if we change Europe, we give back to our continent the possibility to play a role in this very particular moment of history, because I start from the framework not to show some picture of the present, but because I think for my children and my grandchildren, I want a future of prosperity as my grandfather thinking for me. To what I achieved as a result, we need an Italy able to change and to continue to change because the first step is start. But we have a lot of things to do in term of growth, in term of investment, in term of innovation, in term of combined together creativity and new society—lifestyle, and neuroscience, architecture and design and social issues.

This Italy, able to change, could support a Europe who, in the last period, lost a lot of our identity. The problem of Brexit is not Brexit. I’m sorry for this statement, not very intelligent. (Laughter.) The problem of Brexit is not Brexit. No, it is not Brexit. The problem for Brexit is the lack of reaction of European people and the European leaders. This is the point for Italy, the principal point for Italy. And this is the reason that I will use in the next year in a very important three events. First, the G-7 it Sicily, maybe 2017, Taormina, wonderful place. Theater, incredible. Etna, see, wonderful. (Laughter.)

But I think it’s wonderful because there are an intelligence who create that. The masterpiece and the landscape is nothing without intelligence of the people, human capital, human education, human emotions. Second point, European Summit have long March 25, because March 25 will be the 60th anniversary of signature of the first six countries—Germany, France, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherland, and Belgique—and Belgium. Last but not least, the presence in the Security Council, to continue to push in the direction of the idea that I present very briefly this morning.

So I am ready for the discussion, but let me give a special thanks because a prime minister who come back after two years, in Italy it’s very new. And I am really happy for that, and really proud for your presence today. Thank you. (Applause.)

EFFRON: Thank you. So thank you very much for those wide-ranging and great remarks. You touched at the end on Brexit, so why don’t we start there? On Friday, you and 27 EU leaders met it Bratislava, U.K. excluded. And while Brexit wasn’t the main topic, you certainly touched on it. What struck us, I think, here, was that you had a leadership that in many ways was looking for, quote, “more Europe,” but your populations, in many ways, are looking for less Europe. Even in Italy, as we were saying at lunch, 40 percent or so of your population thinks less power at the EU is better. How does the leadership actually bring this together and try to get towards the promise of your vision?

RENZI: It’s not easy, because Europe today is in the field of the fight between fear and courage—exactly that is the normal field. I can explain a little example to explain better my position. If we think Europe—if you think about Europe, you image an incredible—an incredible institution, 70 years of peace. My children look the champion—or Champion’s League, and not to the Italian soccer team. The people love Erasmus and study in different universities around Europe. And important athletes of Italian national team during Olympic Games, after the silver medal, present the flag of Europe. And she said, OK, I am Italian but I think it’s absolutely important continue to believe in Europe.

So Europe is that. But for the people, Europe is the responsible of every problem. In part, for narrative—negative narrative by populists. In part, for the lack of vision of politics by European side. One example, earthquake in Italy. Terrible. Terrible, last—one month ago. Very good emotion, very terrible emotion, very participation and compassion by a lot of people, also by European people, and—(inaudible)—in this case. After the earthquake, every Italian army, Italian police, Italian civil society—everyone react very, very, very strongly in support of these people and the families of the victims.

But when we present a plan with Renzo Piano, with a lot of great personalities of the architecture engineering and prevention to reduce the risk, we have a problem because there is the pact of stability who block the works in the schools. If I am a father or a mother, and I think my school is blocked because there is a pact of stability created by some bureaucrats in Brussels, I consider Europe the responsible of every bad news around the world.

So my view is that we have to combine the great values and the great ideals with the concrete symbol, concrete measures, to give a message Europe is not bad. Europe is the place of possibility for the future. And this is the great challenge of our responsibility. After Bratislava, I wasn’t happy because the message of final document was very technocrats’ message, without vision, without energy, without look, without horizon.

I think Brexit is a problem. I’m sorry for Brexit. I think, in perspective, it will be a great problem for our friends of Britain, our friends, because in the medium term this decision, in my view, will be a great problem for U.K.—not now; in the medium term. But—but—I have a problem. Brexit is Brexit. Now we will look at the future if we are able. And this is the pact for the new generation who drive Europe.

EFFRON: So staying there, sir, five years from now, you come out again, Bratislava. I was struck by how forward you were in your remarks about France and Germany; the economic model for Germany, one of fiscal discipline. You say relaxed austerity. Can economic goals, which is I think at the root of a lot of the issues, can you actually make progress so that, five years from now, you have more of the vision you’re describing for the EU and still try to get your economic goals, which is different than some of your partners?

RENZI: I think European decision in the last years was a mistake. But Italian leadership wasn’t able to give this message because the problem of Italy don’t come from—it didn’t come from Europe but from the lack of reforms. So, first of all, I try to achieve the result of reform in my country.

First think about yourself. So we achieve the result of reform. And then I explain my position. My position is very easy, very simple. Barack Obama, 2008, Europe, 2008, United States-Europe; 2008 crisis in EU, crisis in USA. USA decided to create great plan of investment project, of investment for the new jobs. Today, with all the different ideas about the judge, about President Obama, nobody could deny United States in the last eight years knew the most incredible growth of jobs after World War II; so Congress, President Obama.

EU not. EU decide an investment of austerity, only austerity. We have to reduce the debt. We have to have attention about budget. It’s finished, the time of easy budget. But at the same time, austerity without vision, without infrastructure, austerity in time of crisis risks to be an incredible mistake and enlarge the gap, the division, between the poor, the difficult countries, and the strong countries.

We is the only country receive advantage of this strategy. The country invest in export, first with Germany, but today Germany don’t respect the rule of EU because there is the commercial surplus with more or less three point more than the rule. So I have respect—I discussed with my people, because I respect the European rule in the last two years. And I will respect also for the future.

Also, if I’m not agree, also if I’m not agree with the European what I think is important for reputation of Italy, respect the law, also if we not agree. But why Germany don’t respect the rule and the law?

So this is the point. My idea is copy Obama. Now is very incredible situation for me, because I copy two times in 20 minutes Obama. (Laughter.) OK, open source, but I risk to exaggerate. OK, but copy the strategy of—it’s not important to call Keynes’ memory. This is a time of investment, obviously. We have to decide what type of investment. For me, neuroscience, life science, quality of life, longevity, culture. When I arrived, Pompeii was the symbol of ruins. Now Pompeii is finally come back to place of culture for every country of the world.

So this is the question. My idea is change finally the economic policy of EU. And I think—and I conclude about it—maybe not—my colleagues are not agree with me. But I think that the results of referendum in U.K., particularly in some cities of the north of U.K., and also the good performance of France of Marine Le Pen, come not only from migration questions, but also from the lack of hopes for the new generation, (falls to ?) an incredible level of difficulties.

So austerity is not the way for Europe. Stress austerity means destroy Europe.

EFFRON: Thank you. Thank you. Staying with—the last question from here before we go to members—the referendum. You’ve obviously talked about accountability. You talked about your vision. You talked about a lot for tomorrow. Briefly, Mr. Prime Minister, what is at stake in the referendum? And if the referendum is not successful, does that mean reform comes to a halt?

RENZI: Referendum is about constitutional law; about three points, essentially. First is the reduction of number of politicians. Could—seems a stupid thing, but it’s really a great message, because if Italy has to change, the first to change will be the politician, not the citizen. It’s finished the time in which politician asks to citizen to change and is not able to change himself. So reduce the level of politician. It’s great ambition for a people who think the citizens are the leader, not the politician.

Just to make an example, today in United States, between member of Congress and senator, you have 525 members, I think; 40—

EFFRON: Five thirty-five.


EFFRON: So you’re close.

RENZI: OK. (Laughter.) And you are United States, not a big country as Italy. You have one thousand—

EFFRON: We have—

RENZI: — member of parliament.

EFFRON: Nobody here would be able to give you the count in Italy, that I’m sure.

RENZI: But it’s interesting. It’s interesting, because we have the double of members of Parliament of you, because we have some president of region who have a salary better than president of the United States, because we have a model in the past in which politicians are the crucial stakeholders of everything, and the consequence is every politician remain in the place of political chair for every day of life. If you think, the government change very quickly, but the people are the same. (Scattered laughter.) So this is the first is change of vision. This seems more to the Anglo-Saxon democracy.

Second point: The change of procedure, of law. We believe in a world very, very quickly focused, very, very able to change deeply. We discussed at the start of this meeting. And it’s impossible to have a system very prudent, very slow in which there is a decision, the other chamber decide the opposite, if we change we come back to the—this is a problem not only in Italy. Fukuyama wrote about vetocracy—we discussed during lunch—vetocracy is a message, a very—a very important—it’s not only Italy in a problem of governability and stability. Spain is without a government and risk the third election in one year. You know the—Germany in the last three elections for two times use the Grosse Koalition. We can discuss about a lot of coalition around the European countries. But I think it’s important to give simplicity.

And the third point is the power of regions.

So my idea is give a message of stability and simplicity. To become easy and simply is not a brief way—it’s a contradiction, but to become easy, you have a lot of things to do to arrive to be easy. And I think this is the priority.

What happen if the vote will be for naught? The vote will be for yes.

EFFRON: I like the optimism. With that, we’re going to open it to members. Front row, please. Remember, we are on the record. And make the questions brief and introduce yourself. Thank you.

Q. Jeff Laurenti.

Signor Presidente, you began with an allusion to the American presidential campaign. One of our two leading candidates has raised doubts about the utility of NATO and suggested that those countries that don’t meet the notional 2 percent target of GDP for defense spending would be—you’re fired. Italy has never met the 2 percent target, as best as I know. And you’ve got those other stability pact targets that would prevent you from meeting it. And yet you have troops in Afghanistan. You contribute troops to U.N. peacekeeping, unlike most Europeans or the Americans. You have participated in the campaign against Daesh in Iraq, I think. What for you are the priorities, as opposed to the priorities that NATO bureaucrats might set, for how Italy’s defense capabilities should be structured? What are the roles for the defense institutions in Italy? Is it for peacekeeping, or is it for air and naval combat?

EFFRON: Great, thank you.

Q: What do you think?

RENZI: Great question. I try to be brief. Two percent is the goal also for Italy. But the problem is also in this case the pact of stability because during Wales Summit, September 2004 (sic; 2014), I proposed to other colleagues to—cuts from the pact of stability, the investment on defense, and—European colleagues—and I was alone. Now we are 1.1—if I look my general—(inaudible)—responsible of this sector.

Very briefly, what is the Italian commitment, and what is the Italian goal? Italy is not only committed and engaged with United States and other—and the alliance—not only with the United States, but United States are the best friend as the point of reference for us. We are in Afghanistan, as you said. We are in this moment under request of al-Abadi government and United States government in Iraqi, in the Mosul Dam, very important intervention from Italian company of engineering. We are leading in Kosovo and in Balkanian. Please, when we—when you consider the situation of Europe, don’t forget nothing—never—don’t forget never Balkanian area. Every problem come from Balkania area in the history of the last century. Please. And we are in Kosovo. We are in Somalia. Obviously, we have a very great attention about Libya for evident reasons. We have a lot of initiatives with Blue Helmets around the world.

In our strategy, I think the priority for the future will be, first, a combine together research advance because we have a great engineering and a great quality of our men and women who fight for freedom around the world. Second point, I think is important to have a strategy, common strategy as European leader and European countries. Historically—this is not a moment to discuss about historical problem of a European strategy of defense, but in 1954 was the General De Gaulle to block this strategy. And I think was a terrible mistake for the—for the—Europe—obviously with all the respect for the General De Gaulle, as normal.

And a third and last point, give a message to NATO to have vision, maybe strong, obviously, but also very novative. July 2016, NATO summit was in Warsaw, Poland. The place of the family photo was the place of the Pact of Warsaw, exactly the same place. When I spoke during the table, I joke about it because I said, my mother told me this country is the country of the bad man, not of our man. Our man was NATO. Now we are in Warsaw, the Pact of Warsaw. But this is the symbol of radical change.

So we have to avoid a muscular relation with Russia. This is my opinion. But at the same time, we have to preserve identity, sovereignty and respect of borders in every country in Europe, and not only in Europe.

The real question is, as usual, Middle East and North Africa, and in my view is also the fight against jihadism and extremism, particularly in Africa. But if I start about it, I don’t finish. So please block me, because if I continue it is—

EFFRON: Thank you. Well put. Woman please in—dressed in black. Thank you. Yes.

RENZI: Turn off my micro in a moment.

Q: Nina Gardner. I’m director of Strategy International and the founder of a number of Italian professional women’s groups.

My question is about growth in Italy, the two-pronged growth. One is Italy—Italian women are not having children anymore because of a lack of services. Second, economic growth. Italy is ranked third to last among the OCDE countries in terms of Italian women in the workforce. Italy also spends half the EU average on services toward maternity and infancy projects. What are you going to do about it? Because that, at the end, is—we want Italy to grow, unless you take, if Trump wins, you take the young Democrats from the United States who don’t care about maternity benefits because we don’t have them in the United States, or health insurance, and all move to Italy. (Laughter.)

RENZI: About the last question, I don’t respect the diplomatic protocol because yesterday, during a Clinton Global Initiative, I give a special invitation for my wife to President Clinton for June 7 next year as first gentleman by my wife; to invite President Clinton is not very correct. But obviously, jokes apart, my opinion, my personal opinion is clear—and also, if obviously, Italy, we work with every president, particularly if woman, but this is not important, we will see in the—in the next weeks.

The two points, I agree with you; it’s not correct the last result about the half of average of EU, because I think this is the result of 2013, the last—but the sense—the sense of your question are clear, and I agree. First, the lack of growth in term of demography. The lack of maybe also of hope. One of the most—one of the terrible problem of the—our countries is exactly the lack of new families, couples, new relation. And also France have average of children better than us, very better. And this is a problem for us.

So we try to create a strategy in the last two years. The first is jobs act because the first service is job. Without job, it’s impossible to have a vision and a future. And it’s important to have the first signal in this direction. But if there is a job, it is not the services, as you said, the problem remains. So this is one of the priority for the next months. And the first signals are too much little. I agree with you. But growth—economic growth is—paradoxically, is less important than demographic growth, in my mind, because without—I quote the great speech of Robert Kennedy, Bobby, when he spoke about the GDP. And the GDP is only the least of thing about—don’t involve a lot of very great values. GDP don’t involve, for example, the demographic problems. And I agree with you.

For me, the first problem is the lack of growth in term of demography. The second, the lack of growth in term of economy. When I was here two years ago, I came from three years of recession—two years of recession, because 2012, Moni’s government, the GDP was minus 2.3. 2015, Letta’s government, GDP was minus 1.9. Now, the forecast is 1 point plus. It’s better, but it’s not enough. So the real question for us, is come back to investment because 2012 the level of investment in infrastructure—the public investment, not the private—was the half of 2006-2008, 20 billion against 40 billion. Now, we are 30 billion this year. So we come back, step by step.

But at the same time, we have to create conditions for the growth, reduce the red tape of bureaucracy, give simplicity to judicial process, give an opportunity in the relationship between university and job, and obviously invest in the new generation with a reform of education and the school. So the two questions correct, two problems open for Italy. We are better than two years ago. But better is not enough.

EFFRON: Thank you. How about from the back? Yes, the gentleman holding the paper there. Yeah, thank you.

Q: Bill Drozdiak, McLarty Associates. Mr. Prime Minister, good to see you again.

Italy has replaced Greece as the main point of entry for hundreds of thousands of immigrants coming into Europe. What do you think should be done in collaboration with the United States and your other allies in order to forestall this problem, particularly with ISIS in control of much of the coastline and also getting involved in trafficking so many of these refugees?

RENZI: Personally, I think there is a great difference between the problem of security and the fight against ISIS and Daesh—I prefer to use the expression Daesh—and the question about migration because the experience of the last two years in Italy, and not only Italy, show that the terrorist can, in Western society, not with sheeps refugees, but with the plain and business class, as happened in United States 15 years ago, for 9/11. And in alternative, they grow up inside our city—our cities. Attention please, because this is a very important point. I tried to explain before, but maybe was not a clear message, and I’m sorry for that—for my responsibility.

The killer called Jihadi John, killed by United States—thank you so much for that—in November 2015, the day of Bataclan. So nobody give attention about this point. But the same day, one day before, remember Jihadi John was killed by American people, American troops. Wasn’t a Syrian man. Wasn’t a Libyan man. But he grew up in U.K. He grew up in the school of U.K. He play in soccer with the children of U.K., exactly as the guys of Bataclan and the killer of Bataclan, who grew up in Brussels, Molenbeek Quarter, or the people who attacked the airport or Brussels.

So the question is that. There is a great problem of migration in Europe. And I arrived to discuss about it. But the question against terrorism and for respect of security is different from the question of migration. This is important because in the message of some populists in Italy, just to make an example, there are a lot of people they, oh, they came from Libya. And there are potential killers. The vast majority of those guys escape from the killers, escape from al-Qaida, al-Shabaab, Daesh, and other terrible association and organization of crime. So this is the reason for which I try divide very clearly two different points. But I know in the common discussion a lot of people share the same preoccupation about this point.

I arrive to the answer—and I’m sorry for this introduction. First, Italy in this moment have more or less the same migrants of 2015, a little more, and a little less of 2014. The number, complex number, is not a terrible number, because they less than 200,000 people. Just to make benchmark, Germany last year welcomed 1.1 million people. But what is the problem? The problem is for us it’s impossible to welcome everyone. We tried to save everyone because we belong to human being, and we think impossible to see a woman, a girl, a man, a boy in the sea and give the message: Sorry. I have the problem with my polls. I have the problem with the survey. I lost the point of consensus if I will save. I prefer the loss of consensus than a loss of dignity in front of my children.

So we continue to save everyone as possible. And I spend money of the public citizen to bring back from the sea, from the deep sea, with more or less 400, 500 people died, closed in the ship last—after 2015, because my culture—my grandfather, who is not a man of culture, because a man from farm. But the culture of Italy teach us, learn us it’s important to give a tome to the people. It’s not good read, “Iliad” or “Antigone.” I don’t—and not be able to give a tome to the people. So this ship now is in Augusta. And I propose to bring the ship and use the ship as monument in Brussels in front of new headquarter of European Union cost the lots of billion of euro.

But—and I arrive to the point—Italy have a strategy to (returns ?) and proposed a strategy with the European colleagues. But Italy give the message, the first priority is invest in Africa. In the past period, China invested a lot in China, more than Europe—a lot of money more than Europe. If we can block the people is create—the only way is create jobs, opportunity in a country very rich as Africa, because African is rich. This is a strategy. Block people the people. I don’t think this is a problem of United States. If the United States have to discuss about the refugees problem, and now I will go the President Obama summit about that, start maybe from Lebanon or from Jordania, countries more or less of 4, 5 million of people, and with 2 million of refugees inside the border. So the problem of last 200,000 people come from the fear and the lack of the good organization. But I think the best solution is try to save everyone, but block the people and organize return.

European Union said in the past, OK, organize the relocation, and statement without consequence because nobody want relocation. So this is the lack of credibility from some of European leaders.

EFFRON: Thank you for a complex answer to a complex question.

RENZI: Very, very—

EFFRON: But more importantly, to a very compassionate answer. We have time for one more question. Right here.

RENZI: But I think the answer will be brief. (Laughs.)

EFFRON: It will? (Laughter.)

Q: Good afternoon, Prime Minister Renzi.

I almost said Mayor Renzi, because Benjamin Barber and you and I sat together the morning you went to Rome, when you were still the mayor of Florence, and you talked passionately that morning about the role of cities and metro regions in the future of Italy. I know your constitutional reforms have involved also a more prominent role for metro regions in Italy. And my question is simple: Do you think there is a role for Italian cities and European cities—a(n) Italy of cities and a Europe of cities—in addressing a more courageous and hopeful future, as against the national politics of populism and reaction, where so much fear seems to be? Can cities play a role in that hopeful scenario you’ve drawn for us?

EFFRON: Thank you.

RENZI: The answer? Yes. Very—to give a brief decision. (Laughter.) Yes. (Laughter.) And with the time of brief answer, a lot of leaders come from the experience of city. This is new. The mayor of Buenos Aires become the president of Argentina—good guy, Mauricio Macri. The president of Indonesia. I remember Barack Obama told us the club of mayors, because we come from experience—that kind of experience. But I think we need mayors able to consider in the next 25 years—in the next 25 years that 50 percent of people will live in the cities and the urban areas. So we need—in the smart cities, in the renewable energies, in the digitalization of the service, we need a leader able to invest in the future. I have an answer for the next 25 minutes, but I think it’s better avoid—(laughter)—and give special thanks to here.

EFFRON: You were great to be here. Thank you very much.

RENZI: Thank you so much. (Applause.)

EFFRON: And that was just wonderful. Thank you, everybody, to our members. (Applause.)


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