Paradoxically, Brexit Has Also United the 27

"A collective awareness and sense of responsibility in the face of the challenges ahead."

Prime Minister, dear Paolo,

President of the European Parliament, dear Antonio,

Dear Romano,

Minister, dear Carlo,


Ladies and Gentlemen,

Signore e signori, buongiorno a tutti,

Thank you for giving me this opportunity to discuss the future of our Union with you, surrounded by men and women who know Europe well and who, in some cases, have played their own part in its construction. I would also like to thank Il Messaggero for their invitation.

Perhaps I might begin by expressing my own conviction and my personal opinion about this Europe of ours—as a European citizen and EU negotiator—since the referendum in the United Kingdom.

Europe woke up on 24 June 2016 with a sense of disbelief. We could hardly believe that the British people had decided, in a sovereign vote, to put an end to 44 years of common history. We found it hard to grasp, a few months later, that Transatlantic relations might change as a result of the election of Donald Trump. And of course, following each terrorist attack we found it hard to believe that our countries’ children could inflict irreparable harm on our soil.

But on each occasion, this sense of shock led to a common response. Very quickly, following the British referendum, Europeans expressed their desire to continue to move forward together. Very quickly, following the election of Mr Trump, the Union spoke out strongly to reaffirm its commitment to multilateralism and the fight against climate change. Very quickly, following each of the attacks on our soil, in Paris, Brussels, Nice, London, Manchester, Berlin, Stockholm and Barcelona, we saw a display of solidarity between the peoples of Europe and a determination to fight terrorism side by side.

Here is the proof that the things that unite us—our common values, our desire to be together and the benefits of being together—are stronger than anything that might divide us.

When, shortly after the referendum, Jean-Claude Juncker placed his trust in me by inviting me to conduct these negotiations, the general mood was one of pessimism. They told us that the Union would be divided. They predicted victories for the populists in the Netherlands, France, Austria. They told us that other European countries would definitely follow the British example.

Almost a year and a half later none of that has happened. We must not trivialise the advance of populism. We must all seek to understand the reasons and react to them, but we must never confuse populism with popular sentiment, which is something we must listen to and to which we must respond.

Paradoxically, Brexit has also united the 27. I will soon have finished my second tour of European capitals. Over the past year I have been meeting all the Heads of State or Government. And I can tell you that there is a collective awareness and a sense of responsibility in the face of the gravity of the challenges ahead and what is at stake.

Our unity is of vital importance for the success of these negotiations. It is important for the 27. And it is important for the UK.

Our unity, ladies and gentlemen, is what allows us to insist on three key elements for the conclusion of an ambitious partnership with the United Kingdom. Not only so that we can trade with each other, but also in the interests of our security and defence.

Firstly, we must agree on the orderly withdrawal of the United Kingdom before entering into a discussion about our future relationship and a possible transition period.

The 27 Member States and the European Parliament, led by Antonio Tajani, have from the outset been very clear about what this orderly withdrawal means.

When the moment arrives for the separation that the British have chosen, we must guarantee the rights of European citizens in the UK and British citizens in the EU. We must fulfil our duty to our taxpayers. And we must find a way of maintaining stability and dialogue in Ireland. Trust between the British and the Union depends on it. And trust is absolutely essential.

Early this afternoon I will return to Brussels to resume negotiations. Time is running out. The October European Council wished to maintain the dynamic of the discussions and I share their view. But the time for genuine clarifications is fast approaching.

Secondly, and to lay a proper basis for our future relationship, we must all understand and explain objectively what it means to leave the European Union, the single market and the customs union. These choices have consequences.

It is not possible to be half in and half out of the single market.

It is not possible to end the free movement of persons, while retaining the free movement of goods, services or capital by means of a generalised system of equivalences.

It is not possible to leave the single market and continue to set the rules.

It is not possible to leave the customs union but expect to enjoy frictionless trade with the EU.

The single market is our main economic asset; it is a body of laws, rules and standards that we have chosen jointly—and the UK is well aware of them, since we have decided on them together for the last 44 years—and with which we all comply, together with common institutions and a common court.

There is no reason—and I repeat, no reason—why the single market should be weakened when a Member State leaves.

Thirdly, there will be no future partnership without common rules. There will be no close trade links without a level playing field.

Establishing the rules will not be so easy, because for the first time in negotiations with a non-member country it will be more a matter of managing regulatory divergence than of encouraging convergence.

But these rules are important because they will be one factor in the future debates on ratification of our agreement with the UK in the individual Member States’ parliaments and thus, of course, in the Italian Parliament.

And when I hear the US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, in London, call on the British to move away from Europe in order to move closer towards others—towards less environmental, health and food regulation, and no doubt financial, tax and social regulation too—I have my doubts.

The United Kingdom has chosen to leave the European Union. Will it also want to distance itself from the European model? That is another matter.

Underlying the European regulatory framework are fundamental societal choices that are dear to us: the social market economy, health protection, food safety, fair and effective financial regulation.

I say this here in Rome where the Treaty that founded this model was signed: we will not allow this regulatory framework to be undermined, along with the rights that it brings for citizens, for consumers, for the environment, for business, for communities. We care about it and we will defend it.

Of course, the UK will still be a European country. But it is for the British to tell us if they are going to adhere to the European model. Their reply is important because it will shape the discussion on our future partnership and the conditions for ratification of that partnership.

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is clear that in this negotiation there are fundamental principles that unite us.

And it is clear that unity is needed more than ever to meet the challenges of geopolitical instability and security, climate change and migration, the competitiveness of our businesses.

For each nation and each individual the question is: do we want to discuss these matters together, united, or do we want to tackle them separately, each of us in our own corner, and everyone for themselves?

If we look at the world as it is, it is quite obvious that we are stronger together. We have to act in unison to negotiate with countries such as China, to make sure that multinational companies abide by competition rules, or to guard against financial speculation.

Let us remember what Barack Obama said to the American people: ‘We are the ones we have been waiting for.’ ‘Siamo quelli che stiamo aspettando’

Why should this ambition, this pride in being together, this willingness to act in the present, this capacity to influence the course of events, why should all this be reserved for Americans?

I am sure of two things:

In today’s world—which still sometimes hopes from us, but no longer expects—what we Europeans don’t do for ourselves, nobody will do for us.

And in that world, without the requisite ‘critical mass’, nobody will respect us. This is what Spinelli, De Gasperi, Adenauer, Schuman and Monnet, and many other statesmen understood already 60 years ago.

Europe has that ‘critical mass’ to meet the challenges of today and to project its values and its interests into the world of tomorrow.

The European Union is and will remain a world actor. Together, even without the United Kingdom, we remain a market of 445 million consumers, with a GDP of over 15 trillion euros. We are the second largest economy in the world after the United States, the top destination for foreign direct investment, and the biggest donor of public development aid.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Once we agree to be together, it is another thing to know how to be together and what needs to change in Brussels.

As Jean-Claude Juncker has said, to deal more with the big issues and not so much with the smaller things.

To reform and to correct certain Directives, as we have just done on the posting of workers. This shows that, with political will, we can break even the most persistent deadlock.

To continue to strengthen Economic and Monetary Union. By turning the European stability mechanism into a real European monetary fund. And by one day creating the post of European Minister for Economic and Financial Affairs, like the post of ‘Minister for Foreign Affairs’ which Federica Mogherini fills with such conviction.

To build, alongside the Banking Union, a true capital markets union which will prove that the Union has the skills, funds and structures to remain a leading financial centre after the departure of the City.

To continue to build a common European defence the groundwork for which was laid by Romano Prodi in his time. In June the European Commission proposed a European defence fund and permanent structured cooperation.

To continue to build our ‘Global Europe’ which already has trade agreements with 60 countries worldwide, and which is preparing to negotiate with Australia and New Zealand.

To build a new partnership between the European Union and Africa, that immense continent which will soon number two billion men and women, with so many challenges and so many opportunities.

To raise the level of our foreign policy ambition. As Italy has often wished, the Union is moving forward. We are strengthening our ability to act together on our borders and sometimes beyond.

Ladies and gentlemen,

These projects, among others, show that Europe is able to adapt, to reform itself, to move forward as a whole continent where nations have voluntarily chosen to share their destiny and certain policies. But to share is not to merge. We want a united, not a uniform Europe.

We need to continue on this path without losing sight of the essential thing: the future of the Union, which is much more important than Brexit. And to use the title of your conference, let us realise that we ‘have to grow’. The time is ripe for a new European resolve.

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