Camera dei Deputati (Aula di Montecitorio) 15/05/2006

Message before Parliament in joint session by the President of the Republic on the day of his inauguration


                           PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC

The Assembly Hall of the Chamber of Deputies– 15th May 2006

Mr President,

Honourable Deputies,

Honourable Senators,

Distinguished Representatives of the Regions of Italy,

It is with deep emotion that I am addressing you today in this Assembly Hall where I have spent a great part of my public life, and learned firsthand the significance and value of the representative institutions that are the supreme foundation of a republican democracy. Elective assemblies - Parliament in the first place - are the forum where a country’s issues are debated, where ideas and proposals are compared and discussed, the place where the most effective and widely-shared solutions are sought. The opening of the new Parliament has occurred in an atmosphere of strong tensions, at the end of a fierce electoral competition from which the two opposite political coalitions have emerged as both largely representing the electorate. The assumption of the Government responsibility by the coalition that has, though slightly, prevailed, is the natural expression of the majority system which Italy adopted nearly fifteen years ago as the regulating principle of a democracy based on an effective alternation.

In these circumstances, however, it appears even more necessary to reflect seriously on how relations between the majority and the opposition within a bi-polar political system need to be understood and approached. This does not mean reversing the evolution of Italian democracy that was made possible by the stimuli and contributions from different political forces. The fact that a climate of sheer conflict and incommunicability has set in and frustrates the pursuit of possible common grounds must, however, be regarded as evidence that the pattern of political and institutional relations already established in other Western democracies is not yet fully mature in our country.

But in Italy too democracy based on alternating government must attain full maturity. Mutual acknowledgement, respect and attention between rival political camps; openly discussing competing ideas with decorum in the Parliament and in other elective assemblies; identifying issues which both require and make possible a transparent agreement in the general interest are all elements that can consolidate the new direction of our political and institutional life started with the reforms of 1993 and the elections in 1994, rather than undermine it.

This can only be done by organised political forces and their delegates in representative institutions, underpinned by the awareness and dynamism of civil society.  I, who am called to represent national unity, have the duty today to simply convey a message of confidence in response to the need for harmony and equilibrium which is so strongly felt by most Italians. I believe politics has the ability to regain its fundamental and irreplaceable role in the life of the country and in the conscience of its citizens.  It can succeed to the extent that it shuns acrimony and small-minded attitudes that would inevitably undermine its power of attraction and persuasion.  It can succeed to the extent that it expresses morality and culture, and is enriched by new ideal inspirations. Among these there is the building of a shared memory and identity, as a crucial element ensuring continuity through the normal alternation of different political alliances at the helm of the country.

But no shared memory and identity are attainable unless we go over again, and reconstruct in a spirit of truth, the history of our Republic that was established sixty years ago as the ultimate outcome of the troubled experience of the unitary State and, before that, of the process of the Risorgimento.

Overcoming old, gaping wounds, it is now possible – I believe - to find a common ground in acknowledging the significance and crucial role of the Italian Resistance, while not ignoring shadows, excesses, and aberrations.  We can get together, without opening old wounds, in the respect for all the victims and in paying homage (not as a mere matter of form) to the liberation from Nazism and Fascism, to the regaining of independence and dignity by our Italian motherland.

A shared memory as the pre-condition of a common national identity, to be based on the values of the Constitution. In recalling those values we draw upon their strength and vitality  which resist all controversy, unscathed. I am referring – and it is appropriate to do so on the sixtieth anniversary of the election of the Constituent Assembly – to those fundamental principles which engraved, in the first few articles of our Constitutional Charter, the features of our Republic. Principles, values, aims that were put on paper yesterday and are today open to new realities and expectations.

The value of work, as the basis of the democratic Republic, demands more than ever a positive recognition of the right to work which is still denied to many.  It also demands the protection of work "in all its forms and applications", including the forms that are today characterised by precarity and lack of guarantees.

The inalienable human rights and the principle of equality, "with no distinction of gender, race, language, creed" complement and complete each other within the European Charter that is open to new civil and social rights. They cannot be denied to men and women who are becoming part, as immigrants, of our national community and are contributing to its prosperity.
The value of the centrality of the human person is confronted with the new frontiers of bioethics.

The unity and indivisibility of the Republic has become increasingly interlaced with the wider recognition of the autonomy and role of regional and local authorities.

The protection of linguistic minorities appears to be a far-sighted strategy that contributes to the prosperity and openness of our national community.

The secular pattern of the relations between State and Church - each one conceived as independent and sovereign in their respective realms- continues to retain its vital importance.  Over time, religious freedom and pluralism have been sanctioned, and this process is bound to continue, through agreements promoted by the State.

Also, the development of culture and scientific and technical research, along with the protection of the scenic, historic and cultural heritage, has acquired an unprecedented significance and urgency.

Lastly, the indivisible values of the rejection of war and of international co-responsibility to secure peace and justice in the world, are facing new, complex and tough challenges.

Mr President, Honourable Members of Parliament, Distinguished Representatives of the Regions, who could possibly question the outstanding wisdom and correspondence to the common good of  the constitutional principles and values which I have just set out? From this viewpoint, saying that constitutional unity is the foundation of our national unity is more than appropriate.

Our unfaltering loyalty to the fundamental features of the Constitution of 1948 cannot be mistaken for sheer conservatism. The Constituent Fathers decided in favour of a Constitution 'destined to last’ - a rigid but not immutable Constitution - and they defined the procedures and guarantees for its revision. The successive projects to revise the second Part of the Constitution have never questioned its fundamental principles. When the Parliamentary Republic model was chosen, already the Constituent Assembly stressed the need to "safeguard the stability of government action and avoid the distortions of Parliamentarism".  This issue is still open and new ones have arisen in recent years, including in terms of the role of the opposition and the system of guarantees, following the amendments to the electoral law.  The Constitutional Revision Act approved by Parliament a few months agois now entrusted to the final judgement of the sovereign people; in any case the possibility of new reform proposals capable to gain the necessary broad consensus in Parliament shall then have to be explored.  

Let me convey here my heartfelt tribute to my predecessor, Mr Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, for the exemplary way in which he has fulfilled his mandate, and above all for the impetus he has given to a more resolute affirmation of Italy’s national identity and renewed patriotic sentiments. At the same time no regression to anachronistic fences and scenarios.

As the Constituent Assembly stated, anticipating the events, Europe is a second homeland to us Italians. This has become ever more true during the nearly fifty years elapsed from the the Rome Treaties which, on behalf of Italy, were signed by Antonio Segni and Gaetano Martino. The journey towards European integration and construction had actually begun much earlier, inspired by the prophetic insight of Benedetto Croce and Luigi Einaudi.  It was informed by the contribution of very different personalities – those of Alcide De Gasperi and Altiero Spinelli, the far-sighted statesman and the champion of the federalist movement; neither of them was animated by small-minded realism or abstract utopianism.

The crisis that hit the EU last year cannot in any way obscure the progress we have made. We cannot write off the great project of the European Union as the product of a historical phase - when the continent was divided into two opposite blocs - that ended in 1989.  Not only have we accomplished the greatest enterprise of peace of the last century in the heart of Europe; not only have we achieved an extraordinary and long-lasting economic, social, civil and cultural progress in the countries that joined the project, but we have also established the roots of an irreversible process of integration among peoples, production systems, currencies, cultures, societies, citizens, and young people in the European nations.

However serious they are, the difficulties encountered in the ratification of the Constitutional Treaty cannot stop this process and Italy, whose Government and Parliament were among the first to ratify that Treaty, is strongly interested and deeply committed to creating the conditions for the coming into force of a text that will have a genuine constitutional significance.

The feelings of disillusionment and uncertainty prompted in public opinions by a marked slowdown in economic and wealth growth, by the formidable challenges of global competition and the changed roles and equilibria on the international arena, as well as the questions raised by the enlargement of the Union provide good grounds for reflection but cannot deter us. Certainly, to address these challenges, there is no alternative other than relaunching the European construction.

Italy - as an active player in the construction of a more vigorous and dynamic European entity, and Europe - by joining its forces and strengthening its capability to act - shall be able to play an effective, autonomous and unique role in achieving a new international order based on peace and justice. An order of peace which would enable democracy to expand and the cause of human rights to prevail, while at the same time managing development processes so as to help avoid tensions and the risk of war, and check the intolerable and alarming growth of inequalities that harm poorer countries and the peoples hit by all kinds of scourges, such as those in the African continent.

Thus, the main route for Italy remains its commitment to Europe, as President Ciampi passionately stressed over the last few years. I believe that his sentiments were deeply shared above all by our young generations, whose Italian soul and European soul are one, and who see their future as viable only in Europe.

The priority given to the European commitment does not detract from Italy’s firm adherence to a notion of Transatlantic relations, of its historic ties with the United States of America, and of relations between Europe and the United States as the pillar of a strategy of alliances, in the free pursuit of common approaches to the most controversial issues, on a basis of equal dignity. It is in such context that we must tackle the tough, disquieting and to a large extent novel threat of Islamic fundamentalist terrorism without hesitation or ambiguity.  We must do so without letting this insidious enemy take advantage of any concessions on our part to the logic of a clash of civilisations, and of our forgoing the principle and practice of dialogue between different histories, cultures and religions.

It is not illusory to imagine that this outline of Italy’s foreign policy approaches could be shared by opposite political coalitions. Within such framework, it is for the Government and the Parliament to suggest actions that may help dialogue and negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, with the full acknowledgment of the right of the State of Israel to live in a secure environment, and the right of the Palestinian people to live in an independent State.  It is time to banish the weapon of suicide terrorism, and firmly oppose any resurgence of anti-Semitism.

Action is also needed for a resolution of the bloody crisis still ongoing in Iraq; for the stabilisation of the democratic process in Afghanistan; for the pursuit of a positive outcome for the alarming tensions with Iran.

More specifically, it is up to the government and the Parliament to find solutions for the recall of Italian troops from Iraq. Today, this Assembly is united in a reverent and deeply-felt homage to all our fallen soldiers, who have represented the painful price of missions abroad carried out with dedication and honour, whatever the measure of agreement in deciding on them. 

Honourable Members of Parliament, Distinguished Representatives of the Regions, if I now turn my attention from the critical European scenario to the state of our country and our direct responsibilities, I can only afford a few, brief considerations without dwelling on subjects which, more than others, are to be addressed through a debate between different political approaches and stances.  In this respect as well, I can only convey a message of confidence, without indulging in pessimistic analyses on the inevitable decline of our economic and financial system, nor, however, underestimating the weaknesses and the problems to be surmounted – in the first place, the problem of public debt, and that of the weaknesses of our production system.

Italian businesses have proved capable to meet the challenge of operating in open and liberalised markets; they have also shown their will to engage seriously in the promotion of growth, innovation and internationalisation. They do not expect the State to introduce or retain undue protections, but to promote the competitiveness of the system, as well as private and public investment, and to revive the process of infrastructural development which played so significant a role in the years after World War II. But the requirement to remove unjustified constraints and limitations is matched by the requirement to ensure effective and efficient rules and controls.

Our country cannot renounce its outstanding tradition in the industrial and agricultural sectors that still continue to make significant progress, including in terms of technology. This has recently made possible an impressive recovery from serious crises, and the emergence of new and flourishing industrial realities. It is at the same time imperative to strengthen and modernise the services sector, and enhance with courage and far-sightedness Italy’s unique natural, scenic, cultural and artistic heritage.

This is all the more true for the policies for Southern Italy; its regions constitute an essential axis in the comprehensive revival of national growth, not least because of their strategic importance in the new, broad perspective of investment and trade flows between the Euro-Mediterranean area and Asia.  No further words on my part are necessary, Distinguished Members of Parliament and Regional Representatives, given the deep-rooted ties, and political and personal experience that link me to the South. No further words are required to convey to you a hope and a wish so strongly felt.

Out of my overall political and personal experience, I am deeply convinced that the revival of our economy is linked to the revival of social justice, to the fight against increased inequalities and new types of exclusion and poverty, to a consistent commitment to job creation, to a higher rate of employment and activity, to the urgent improvement of the conditions of the working and retired population, and to renewed guarantees for the dignity and security of work.

We need more justice and social cohesion. While in this respect a decisive role must be played by the trade unions,  which are however facing a rapidly changing labour market that requires the clear willingness to accept innovation, the entrepreneurial forces as well have an interest and a duty to understand and support policies that enhance cohesion and solidarity.

When, in facing so complex problems and so heavy constraints, we wonder whether we can succeed, we ought to look at Italy’s assets and resources. These are the regional and local institutions which exert their autonomous powers as part of a responsible and loyal partnership with the State, relying on the joint commitment of the public administration at the exclusive service of the nation; a rich social and cultural fabric that provides a valuable potential of subsidiarity, thanks to past and current contribution from intermediate communities, lay and religious associations, voluntary and non-profit organisations. These assets are the participation of the people from the bottom up, which can be encouraged and channelled by local institutions.

And then there are the families, like the ones we have seen over the last few weeks mourning the military fallen in Nassirya and Kabul. Industrious and modest families who teach their children the sense of duty towards their motherland and their society. Families which are Italy’s greatest riches.

Also, we can rely on the great resource represented by women’s energies – let me recall here the great figure of Nilde Iotti – that are not mobilised or made the most of in the fields of work and public life – these prejudices and barriers, resulting in a tremendous waste of resources, can no longer be tolerated. Lastly, we count on  the resources young men and women can receive from an educational system that up to the highest level should provide equal opportunities of development to the individual, and reward the merits and the dedication to study and work.

All this justifies a non-rhetorical confidence in the future of our country.

Our future, however, is also linked to issues such as those existing in the broader scenario of the European area of freedom, security and justice. The challenge of the fight to organized crime – an aggressive presence that continues to have a heavy impact on the chances of development of our South - remains tough, like that of the fight against the new threats of international and domestic terrorism. We feel confident, however, at the thought that the State, including in the last few years, was able to rely on the effective, joint action of the Judiciary and law enforcement agencies.  Because of my government responsibilities, I have had an opportunity to know them more in depth and to value their commitment and enthusiasm, and now wish to express to them all our most heartfelt gratitude.

Certainly, the issues of collective legality and morality remain unsolved and alarming, including in areas that we had hoped would not be affected. And unfortunately the state of the administration of justice is still critical, especially in terms of the length of trials.

Relations between politics and the Judiciary are still too tense; this interferes with the fulfilment of a supreme constitutional function and wounds the dignity of those who are called to discharge it. Also in this most sensitive area, and in  the necessary processes of reform, there is a strong need and demand for harmony and equilibrium.

Politics and the institutions are therefore facing serious and complex tasks. This is a difficult time for Italy.  But the years that followed World War II and Liberation were not only difficult, they were tragic. Italy had inherited a terrible material and moral destruction and had to overcome the shock of an electoral and ideological clash, such as the one that had split the country into two parts on the choice between the monarchy and the republic.  At the time, the sense of a common national mission prevailed - the greatest evidence of that being the Constituent Assembly - and got the better of all difficulties, overcoming the, though legitimate, ideological and political disagreements. My call for unity today is therefore not intended to gloss over the actual existence of harsh disagreements especially at the highest levels of national politics; its aim is rather to promote among Italians a new meaning of the mission to be fulfilled so as to give new impetus and cohesion to our society, and ensure that our country play its appropriate role in Europe and across the world.

This is perhaps the appeal that shall be better answered in deep Italy, the Italy of a hundred small provinces, the Italy of daily labour, moved by the will to progress and that my predecessor travelled throughout, bringing back the picture of a common purpose and action steadier than is commonly believed.

I consider it my duty to commit myself to encouraging a less antagonistic interaction between the political forces, and broader and more constructive convergences throughout the country.  I am going to do this with the necessary sobriety and in the respect of the limits set by the Constitution in force to the role and powers of the President of Republic. A role of guarantor of the values and checks and balances of our Constitution; a role of moderator and moral suasion based on a sense and duty of impartiality in performing the Presidential responsibilities.

As a representative of national unity, I welcome of the reference contained in the message sent to me by Pope Benedict XVI - to whom I convey my respectful thanks and greetings. I welcome the reference to human and Christian values that are the heritage of the Italian people, knowing well the deep historic relations between Christianity and Europe. And it is necessary to recognise in a secular way the social and public dimension of religion and to concretely develop co-operation in Italy between the State and the Catholic Church in many fields, in the name of the common good.

At the beginning of his mandate, the President of the Republic wishes to pay homage to the Constitutional Court, as the supreme guarantor that has been watching for fifty years over the full compliance with our Basic Law; to the Higher Council of the Judiciary which is the expression and bulwark of the Judiciary’s autonomy and independence from any other power; to all the public administrations; to the State organisations and agencies, in particular the Italian Armed Forces who distinguish themselves for the increasing level of their modern professionalism and efficiency, and all the different and distinct forces that co-operate in safeguarding the citizens’ security.

Particular attention must be given to the schools and Universities, and to those who have the responsibility to keep the profile of education high.  A firm commitment to ensuring the freedom and pluralism of the media is owed to this domain, as an inescapable condition for democracy.

My grateful and respectful thought goes to all my predecessors.  These personalities were representative of diverse ideal inspirations and popular traditions, but all cherished the fundamental values of freedom, justice, solidarity.

Let me recall in particular the first President of the Republic, Mr Enrico De Nicola, who was the symbol of reconciliation during a difficult historic transition.  Old ties linked our families; also, both of us, at different times, represented in Parliament our great, generous, and tormented city of Naples.

Mr President, Honourable Members of Parliament, Distinguished Representatives of the Regions, I bow before this Assembly in which all the Italians identify themselves, including for the first time the Italians working and living abroad - their communities can now voice their needs and expectations. I will not at any time be President just for the majority who elected me. I will give attention and respect to all of you, to all the ideals and policies you express. I shall spare no efforts for the sake of the general interest, so as to be able to rely on the confidence of the representatives of the people and of the Italian citizens without distinguishing between allegiances.

Long live the Parliament!
Long live the Republic!
Long live Italy!