Italian PM Enrico Letta: We Need to Have a Strong European Union

Brookings and the Council for the U.S. and Italy hosted a conversation with the prime minister of Italy, Enrico Letta, on how Italy and Europe should move forward in this period of recovery following the economic crisis.

Prime Minister Letta, who met with President Obama during his visit this week, said that “we need to have a strong European Union.” He explored how the EU can continue to have influence in the world, and said that European leadership needs to be “linked to the voters.” The president of the European Union, he said, needs to be elected to have “true legitimacy” and there needs to be just one leader of the EU.

“We can have influence in the world, in the world economy, in the world foreign policy … only if we are united,” he said. The prime minister also spoke strongly about the importance of European integration to a successful future: “We need to have a frank and public discussion and to say European integration is better than European collapse.” And, he said, we have to “avoid a North-South divide in Europe,” he said. Addressing the tension between integration and anti-European Union sentiment, he asked, “What will be the consequence of the collapse of the European Union?”

The prime minister said that the TTIP—the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership—will be one of the top priorities for the European presidency next year, with the aim to sign the agreement before the end of the year.

Prime Minister Letta spoke about the specific challenges facing Italy. He referred to the “strange demography” of Italy and said that “We have the welfare that we have to sustain and we need growth to sustain welfare.” Yet Letta was also very adamant about the need for stability in Italy: “Lower interest rates arrive with political stability.” Without this stability, he is doubtful that Italy will be able to sustain its debt: “If I have to pay 30 billion [euros in interest per year] more for financing this huge debt”—due to a 6% interest rate as opposed to 3%—”it would be impossible to manage the crisis.”

Letta presented three ideas for his time as Italy’s prime minister with respect to generational change:

1. To have a very young cabinet to demonstrate that in Italy “It’s possible to have young people driving.”
2. To have the “biggest number of women in the government. … We do not give enough opportunities to women [in Italy].”
3. To have the first black minister in Italy’s history. Letta mentioned that there is more diversity in his children’s classes than there was in his days at school.

Event video and audio are now available.

Get more Brookings research on Italy and the European Union.

Colleen Lineweaver contributed to this post.