Palazzo del Quirinale 14/12/2012

Address by the President of the Republic, Giorgio Napolitano, on the presentation of seasonal greetings by the Diplomatic Corps

Most Excellent Dean of the Diplomatic Corps,
Authorities, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I wish to thank the Dean of the Diplomatic Corps for his friendly and thoughtful reflections and for his greetings to Italy and to me personally, which I greatly appreciate and which I am delighted to reciprocate to the entire Diplomatic Corps.

This is my seventh and final opportunity to welcome you as my guests here at the Quirinale Palace for the traditional exchange of greetings as the year comes to an end. During my mandate, I have received you in turn when each of you had to present his own credentials, with a spirit rich in goodwill towards Italy and open to an active and friendly collaboration. I have then seen you strengthen links, smooth out problems, take part in the cultural life of our cities, intensify economic-commercial relations between our countries, and follow the Italian political scene - which may not be easy to understand, but is never boring. We have met in connection with my international engagements. I would like to thank you for the constant flow of high-level personalities from your countries whom I have received at the Quirinal Palace. And I will certainly not forget your decisive contribution to the success of the celebrations for the 150th anniversary of the Unification of Italy, which on 2 June 2011 saw a gathering of Heads of State and Government here that for Italy was unprecedented.

In the course of these nearly seven years, the world has never been far from the "Colle". I have received 86 Heads of State in this Palace, of whom 43 on state visits, and I have given 136 audiences to foreign personalities. And, when the world did not come to the Colle, the President travelled from here out into the wider world. To date, those seven years have seen me take part in 26 international meetings in Italy outside the walls of this Palace, and 74 visits abroad (19 of them state visits) which took in 39 countries and 7 international organisations.

Even before I was elected President of the Republic, I was familiar with the vital role you play in international relations. The figure of the diplomat has existed, in one form or another, since many centuries. An interdependent world like today's makes that figure even more necessary, and no technological progress in communications can take the place of your role. In my own current position I have witnessed the dedication, professionalism, preparation, and, last but by no means least, the readiness to accept personal sacrifices and risks, sometimes of the gravest nature, that characterise the work of the Diplomatic Corps in all continents.

And the very real nature of those risks was tragically brought home to us all by the sacrifice of Chris Stevens, the American Ambassador to Tripoli, who fell on 11 September this year, the victim of a terrorism that flies no flag and knows no pity. Stevens, to whose memory I wish to pay homage here today, believed in diplomacy as a means of building bridges of dialogue and mutual understanding between nations, cultures and faiths. That was and still is the path to follow: we must never accept discord and conflict as being inevitable. Diplomacy is also the tenacious, daily effort of those who, even in desperate situations, sow seeds that will germinate in the future. This was clearly shown, against the background of the greatest tragedy of the 20th century, the Holocaust, by the Swedish diplomat, Raoul Wallenberg. Only weeks ago Rome too commemorated the centenary of his birth.

Fortunately, in Italy and in Europe radical changes have taken place since the darkest decades of the 20th century. The significance of the Nobel Peace Prize just awarded in Oslo to the European Union lies precisely in its recognition of the Copernican revolution that the integration process has brought about in relations between states and peoples in the "Old Continent". As an Italian and a European, I can only be proud of that. The Nobel Prize is also an incitement to the Union to do more, to continue in its course of inclusiveness, outside its current borders too, and to extend its functions under the banner of peace, stability, democracy and the rule of law.
These same principles inspire the Italian Constitution, and they are universal values with which you can all identify, even while serving the national interests that you faithfully represent and steadfastly promote among us. Together, you are indeed the mirror-image of the international community that, under the Charter signed in San Francisco in 1945, undertook to seek peace, justice, legitimacy and the rule of law. Imperfect and problematical as it may be, passed through by many tensions, the world in the 21st century is no longer ruled by anarchy and the law of the strongest. We are, rather, all bound by a sort of "international common interest" that economic interdependence and media communications have made even more imperative.
The growing global awareness of human rights is a major achievement of recent years: the dignity of the individual; individual freedom of religion, thought, and expression; respect for and the protection of minorities; the assertion of women's status; the protection of children; social progress in the forms and with the characteristics that pertain to each culture; the firm and resolute rejection of all forms of terrorism and violence against civilians, no matter what the ideological pretexts for it may be.
However, these principles are all too often ignored and trampled under foot, even today. Serious abuse against civilian populations are afflicting regions that are by no means remote from us. Today, our thoughts go out to the sufferings of the Syrian people, who after a year of brutal repression and harsh fighting are not yet free from oppression and fear. After the Doha Conference, the unification of almost the entire democratic opposition, in the form of the Syrian National Coalition, has paved the way for the Italian government, and many others, to recognise the Coalition as the sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people. I hope that it will grow even stronger to prepare a political pathway out of the conflict. In the interest of peace and security of the entire region, it is vital that the Security Council regain its cohesion so as to give that political pathway the seal of legitimacy. In Syria and the countries on its borders the most immediate, pressing priority is humanitarian assistance for refugees and civilian victims of the conflict. This applies, in particular, to the weakest groups, such as children, whose conditions can only worsen as the winter draws in. Italy, which is already providing aid on the ground, will not fail to make a concrete contribution to the international humanitarian effort.

Non respect for human rights also characterizes many other situations and regions in the world : our thoughts go, in particular, to the precarious security of Christian communities in certain African and Asian countries. Governments have a responsibility to protect their citizens, without distinctions of creed or ethnicity.

The "common good" of the international community includes many elements - human and material - that cannot be divided on a national or even regional basis. Of these, I cannot fail to draw your attention to climate change. Many of the countries present here today, Italy included, have in recent years suffered devastating natural disasters, of growing intensity and frequency. Most recently, Hurricane Sandy swept through the United States, causing widespread dismay and unprecedented difficulties. Even in the absence of unequivocal scientific explanations, and without evading national responsibilities - in Italy too, I readily admit - for prevention and for the protection of our territory, these events sound an international alarm. An alarm that must prompt us to take serious steps to significantly reduce those causes of climate change, and more specifically of global warming, that can be attributed to human behaviour. Sadly, the recent Doha UN Climate Change Conference did not see significant progress in this respect.

You know well the priorities and the constants that underpin Italian foreign policy. You know of our commitment at the multilateral level; our re-affirmed dedication to development cooperation; our contribution to peace and to international security that translates, on the ground, into a significant Italian participation in military peace and stabilisation missions, for which we pay a high price in terms of sacrifice and of human lives. You can be sure that, as parliaments and governments succeed each other in their natural progression, the cornerstones of our international relations do not change, just as our respect for the commitments we have undertaken does not change. Three generations of our history as a republic bear witness to that.
I will not dwell on this point; I would like, rather, to share with you my thoughts on the year that is coming to a close and on some trends that are emerging from it.

In 2012, the European Union achieved important results in regaining control of the economic-financial situation. The crisis is not yet behind us, but we have overcome its most acute stage and identified the way to emerge from it. When we met a year ago, we could not take it for granted that we would succeed in this endeavour.

Today, as the President of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi, recently pointed out, we can see "a relative stabilisation of market conditions, and more generally of improved confidence about the stability of the euro area. Fears that the euro could be reversible have been addressed". But if these results are to be lasting, they must rest first of all on "the collective commitment of all governments to reform the governance of the euro area" on the basis of the four pillars indicated by the institutions of the Union. And second, on "the individual commitment of each government to maintain or restore in their own country the conditions of competitiveness that are at the source of balanced growth and employment."

That is what Europe and Italy must do. Italy will not budge from this line; the Parliament and Government that emerge from the imminent, and normal, democratic test of the general election, cannot budge from this line. We must not be alarmed, Ambassadors, by the tensions that have recently swept the Monti Government and provoked its resignation. This difficult period will pass: the sense of responsibility and the European aspirations of each political force will prevent them from putting at risk the progress achieved by Italy through intense effort and painful sacrifice. The elections will give rise to that renewed commitment that President Draghi has called for; we will continue to pursue it here at home and in concert with our European partners.

Let us turn our gaze from Europe to the broader Mediterranean. The Arab Spring countries have moved on from their people's impassioned demands for freedom and social progress, to the arduous but vital task of adjustment and consolidation of their institutions and newly re-discovered democracy. Naturally, the stabilisation processes and the creation of those new constitutions must not be detrimental to the essential need to respect human rights, gender equality, and political, cultural and religious pluralism. The fledgling democracies of the Mediterranean are displaying vitality and a desire for popular participation that legitimise the confidence of Italy, of Europe, and of the entire international community, whose support will be essential to the construction of democracy and the economic development of the various Arab "Spring" countries.

The broader Middle East is still the theatre of numerous tensions, conflicts and crises. I have already mentioned the most acute crisis, in Syria. It is vital, as we work to find a political solution, to prevent the crisis from spilling across Syria's borders. At the same time, I hope that 2013 will finally see the dispute over Iran's nuclear activity resolved at the negotiating table. The definite and verifiable elimination of the risks of proliferation of nuclear weapons will make it possible to withdraw the sanctions that have been necessary thus far, sanctions against a country and a people for whom Italy harbours sincere and historic feelings of friendship.

The resumption of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process remains the goal whose achievement, to date, has been frustrated by an insufficient political will by the parties concerned and by the failure of countless diplomatic efforts. Nearly twenty years have gone by since the Oslo promise. In November 1999 the President of Israel, Ezer Weizman, wrote to my predecessor, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, who had just made the first Italian state visit to Israel: "I am confident that the peace process is irreversible". Today, I warmly invite our Israeli and Palestinian friends to return, together, to this simple - but crucial - starting point.

On 29 November the General Assembly of the United Nations approved the upgrading of the Palestinian delegation's status to "non-member observer State". Italy's vote was preceded by intensive efforts to open up a dialogue that would have prevented that debate in the Assembly. Our vote was the outcome of scrupulous, in-depth reflection - a reflection that certainly took place in all the other member states of the United Nations. But irrespective of the different votes cast, the UN General Assembly, as a whole, gave voice to the unanimous international aspiration for a true, just and lasting peace. A peace that will finally offer the Israeli and Palestinian peoples, and above all the future generations, the prospect of a peaceful and constructive co-existence, freedom from the burden of hatred and violence, security for their states and borders and a daily life free from terror attacks, alarms, missile launches and bloody clashes.

Italy believes that peace between Israel and Palestine must not languish in the realm of unfulfilled Utopias. Italy believes it in the interest of Israel and of Palestine, but also in its own national interest and in that of the Mediterranean region and of Europe as a whole, regions which are inevitably exposed to the threat of instability and fragility fuelled by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the Middle East.

The regional strategic situation; the need to preserve the Jewish, democratic nature of the State of Israel while guaranteeing its right to exist in full security; the unacceptable suffering inflicted upon the civilian populations on both sides of the conflict; the demands for normality voiced by Palestinian civil society, which disappointment and disillusionment could push even further towards extremism and violence: it is for these reasons that we need to return, here and now, to the pathway that leads to peace. Italy's beliefs and positions remain unchanged in their profound equilibrium. We know that peace can only be attained through direct negotiations by both sides. The international community cannot take their places but wants to convey this sense of urgency to them. And Europe too is called to play a more active role. I was greatly encouraged by the enlightened words of President Shimon Peres, voiced through the long interview given some days ago to "Der Spiegel". Asked whether the UN General Assembly vote makes the negotiations with the Palestinians more complicated, President Peres answered: "Maybe, not more complicated but surely more necessary". And he concluded by saying: "We must start negotiations immediately, without preconditions, soon after the Israeli elections on January, 22". Well, allow me to applaud the words of this prominent protagonist of the history of the State of Israel.

Lastly, we know well that the international stage is dominated by the problems and implications of a global financial and economic crisis that brings to mind the unknowns and challenges of the 1930s. The United States and Europe are at the epicentre of the crisis that flared up in 2008. A joint commitment on both sides of the Atlantic is essential. On this point, the dialogue between Brussels and Washington, starting in 2013, on a Free Trade Agreement will be a valuable sign and instrument of that commitment. The Agreement could be a new projection of that historic vision of solidarity and common security that for over half a century has been embodied by the Atlantic Alliance.

The newly dynamic and active role that the Asia-Pacific region can play will be decisive in overcoming the global crisis. We look to all of the large and medium-sized powers in that region with great respect and a readiness to collaborate. The Atlantic and the Pacific are, more than ever, two great hubs of civilisation that must converge in a broader common effort to provide fitting and adequate rules for the globalisation process. They must ensure international stability, collective security, and a multilateral order that is also founded on true and effective freedom of trade and navigation.

To conclude, may I express, through you, my best wishes for their future work to the numerous Heads of State who have begun their mandate as leaders of their nations during the past year. Changes in the leadership of institutions is a natural and healthy element of good government and democratic political life. It must occur peacefully, with due respect for citizens' rights and in a spirit of transparency, service to the state and certainty in the rule of law. It is in this spirit that, as I look to the end of my own mandate, I have once again welcomed you here to the Quirinale Palace.

My very best wishes to all of you and to your families for Christmas and the New Year.