These are historic times for Italy: our senate has just voted to accept far-reaching reform. There will no longer be a bicameral system, where the two parliamentary chambers have the same role and power. The government will no longer have to win a confidence vote twice to survive, and the country will no longer require 315 senators.
Italy has been simplified. What seemed impossible just two years ago is now a reality.
Something entire generations of Italian politicians dreamed of is now happening. And while we wait for the reforms to be approved in a referendum in October, we can see in these measures the natural conclusion of a process that in the space of 22 months has included transforming the labour market, changing the voting system, cutting taxes while reducing the deficit, reducing delays in the civil justice system (although more needs to be done), battling the red tape of bureaucracy, and investing in education and research.
The numbers demonstrate the scale of the change: 400,000 jobs created in a year. We have growth after three years of contracting GDP, and confidence is at its highest in 20 years.
Italy is back, more fit and stable, more responsible and ambitious. But in the meantime Europe has gone missing in action. I won’t beat about the bush: we all know that the political and cultural orthodoxy that has monopolised thinking on how Europe should be run for the last decade isn’t working. Or at least it isn’t working in the way it used to.
Take immigration: the position keeps fluctuating. We are, of course, happy that Italy’s criticism of the grave deficiencies of the Dublin regulation on refugees is finally common currency, even in Brussels.
The Dublin rules, which require refugees to claim asylum in the country where they first land, need to be changed urgently if we want to save the European project. Italy was the first to say it, and when we did, not many shared our view.
On the economic front meanwhile, the EU fixation on austerity is actually destroying growth. On energy there are double standards between the interests of Germany and the Netherlands, and those of the rest of the EU; on investment there is a great deal of talk and promises, but not too many construction sites.
Italy still believes in the European dream. It is for this very reason that we cannot accept the way in which it is being turned into a nightmare by populists.
We need to change pace now. We are not asking for this because Italy needs it, but because Europe needs it. And my country, finally stable after years of political tension, does not intend to fall short of the moral obligation that we have towards finally building a future for Europe. We love the vision of Europe’s founding fathers, but we need to build a Europe for their children too, a Europe that does not look after just its own.
Italy still has a lot to do to re-establish its rightful position. The justice system, the functioning of public utilities, reducing the debt and improving transparency are all clear goals for my government. And we know that the recent turbulence around some Italian banks shows that our credit system – solid and strong thanks to Italians’ extraordinarily high household savings – still needs consolidation in order for there to be fewer but stronger banks. When the market speaks, as it has done in recent days, it is right that bank executives and shareholders comprehend the need for serious and swift intervention. For our part, we will take all necessary measures to support this historic road of transformation.
However, Italy will not stop demanding to have its voice heard. For years Europe has tended to pay little attention to Italy because of the attitude of those who governed the country.
But now the music has changed. The new generation leading this seasoned old nation believes in a Europe not as the sum of national self-interest but as a space for freedom, culture and wellbeing. This is exactly why we need to change pace immediately. We need to act without fear, but with clear and concrete plans, in the knowledge that if Europe fails, the world is a weaker place.
Matteo Renzi is the prime minister of Italy and secretary of the centre-left Democratic party.