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PIG TODAY-Reviving the spirit of De Gasperi: working together for an effective and inclusive Union

Speech by Mario Draghi, President of the ECB, at the presentation ceremony of the De Gasperi award, Trento, 13 September 2016

I have many reasons to be grateful and honoured by your decision to award me thePremio De Gasperi today. His character and his experience provide us with an inspiring message, loud and confident: “In Europe we go forward together in freedom”.

This message is rooted in the 20th century history of our continent.

The raison d’être of any government is to provide security for its citizens, both physically and economically. And in democratic societies, that means providing safety and security by preserving individual liberties and individual rights, by promoting social fairness and equal opportunities.

The statesmen who, after World War Two, looked back over the preceding half-century could reach only one conclusion: that the governments which emerged from nationalist and populist movements, and which were carried into power by a mixture of charisma and lies, completely failed to offer their citizens security, fairness and freedom. They had betrayed the very reason for their existence.

In outlining the future shape of international relations, De Gasperi and his contemporaries concluded that only cooperation between European governments within a common organisation could ensure the joint security of their citizens.

They saw that implanting democracy in the nations of Europe would not be enough. Europe also needed democracy among nations. They understood that building barriers between countries would make them more vulnerable and less secure, not least due to their geographical proximity; and that withdrawing behind one’s borders would make governments less effective.

De Gasperi’s vision of how this joint process should be shaped was articulated in various speeches he gave in those years.

Common challenges should be addressed via supranational instead of intergovernmental strategies. Speaking to the assembly of the European Coal and Steel Community in 1954, De Gasperi noted that “…from 1919 to 1939, some seventy international treaties were concluded – and all became mere pieces of paper when it came to their implementation” because of the lack of “joint control of common resources”. And the experience of politicians was validated by distinguished economists, such as Ragnar Nurkse, who showed how those treaties ended up fostering protectionism.

Integration above all had to meet the immediate needs of the people. As De Gasperi observed, “We must begin by pooling only what is strictly essential to the achievement of our immediate aims, and do this by means of flexible formulae which can be gradually and progressively applied”.

And joint action had to be focused on areas where, evidently, individual action by governments was not sufficient: joint control over the raw materials of war, in particular coal and steel, was one of the first examples.

In this way, the founders of the European project were able to pair effectiveness with legitimacy, since the process was legitimised by both popular consensus and the support of governments. It was focused on areas where the action of European institutions and the benefits for the people were directly and visibly related. And joint action did not limit the authority of governments, but rather buttressed it, and thus found their backing.

But it was not only the disastrous experience of the past that motivated De Gasperi and his contemporaries. It was also the immediate successes which were made possible by the initial decisions of the post-war period. Read more: ecb.europa.eu

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