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DISCORSO - PRIMO MANDATO

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New year message of the President of the Italian Republic Giorgio Napolitano


Palazzo del Quirinale, 31/12/2009

Good evening to all those of you who may be listening in.

As 2009 draws to a close and I give you my best and warmest wishes for a Happy New Year I should like to try and share a few thoughts with you about the difficult times we have just lived through and about what lies ahead. A year ago we were very worried by the economic and financial crisis that had swept across the whole world. Italy was not the only country affected but we had special reasons to be worried about our country.

Today, a year later, we can say that a great effort was made and that important results were achieved at global level. In similar situations in the past it was unprecedented for the representatives of leading countries in all continents to meet so often and consult together to try and come up with solutions in the common interest and to agree on the decisions to be taken. But that was just what did happen last year. Italy - while remaining firmly anchored to Europe - made its own, widely-appreciated contribution with last July's top-level meeting in L'Aquila and also made a major effort on its own behalf.

I say this, you see, as I consider what took place at the deepest level in our country. Because, as I know only too well, while we certainly lived through some very turbulent times politically speaking it should not stop us from seeing how all the institutions produced concrete results and how, despite deep divisions, it was often possible to find common ground and make progress. At the same time, at the broadest and deepest level of society, businesses, families and working people reacted to the crisis with intelligence, flexibility and a sense of responsibility.
Let us look to the New Year with confidence, with greater confidence than last 31 December.

I cannot, however, help mentioning the price which we in Italy paid for the crisis and which we still risk paying, especially in social and human terms.
There has been a sharp fall in production and consumption. We are recovering from that. Italy's talent for industrial entrepreneurship was confirmed. But a number of businesses, mainly small and medium ones, have suffered significant damage. And in 2010, what is most at risk is employment. Great efforts have been made to safeguard human capital and to ensure that even crisis-hit companies can go on employing precious human resources. Safety nets and social safeguards have been extended but hundreds of thousands of fixed-term workers, whose contracts have not been renewed and who lacked adequate or indeed any protection paid a high price. There is no doubt that the trend today is one of growing unemployment, particularly among young people.

Under such conditions some of the long-standing contradictions that characterize Italy's society and its economy have returned to the fore. As I said in my message a year ago: let us consider the crisis as a major challenge and as an opportunity of throwing the country open to new opportunities for development. Let us mend the defects and resolve the problems that have been with us too long - the crisis can and must produce an Italy that is more just. That challenge still remains to be overcome and that is the basic resolution which we Italians have to make together.

But how can we succeed? By looking at reality, even when it is most critical, with courage, by embarking on the reforms and taking the decisions that can no longer be delayed and by allowing ourselves to be guided by the great values of human solidarity, social cohesion and national unity.
Let me start with the families that had the biggest problems - couples with several under-age children and families with a single, blue-collar breadwinner. Research, including parliamentary studies, shows that Italy has a high level of social inequality and poverty compared with other countries. Wages and salaries continue to be penalized by high fiscal pressure and social security costs; the lowest revenues are those of families whose members work on a casual or temporary basis.

The most critical conditions are to be found in the south of Italy and among the young. Those are the questions that need to be the focus of political and social attention and of any government programme. Italy's economy must grow more and better than in the last 15 years - that is our fundamental objective. And in order for Italy to grow faster the south of Italy, the Mezzogiorno, must grow, and must do so much more. Only that way, with the whole of Italy growing at the same time, can an answer be given to all the young people who are worried about their future.

There is one thing we cannot afford, and that is to let our youngsters become discouraged and lose any hope of achieving their ambitions, of finding a job and of enjoying a life worthy of their, and our country. The new generations hold magnificent reserves of energy, talent and determination. Rhetoric aside, that is my sincere belief because I have personally witnessed how those energies can find concrete expression when the right conditions exist.

I have seen the motivation and the passion of young people, many of them young women, in the research laboratories I had the chance to visit this year. I am talking about the motivation and the pride of the young specialists who represent the most important asset of high-tech industries; of the passion and commitment felt in young orchestras created and led by dedicated artists. And I am thinking of the motivation and talent of young people who study for the hardest of exams in order to enter public services such as the judiciary. To be sure, those are the youthful energies that have found the very best directions to flow in; but alas many are those still vainly striving to find their way. But I am confident in all of the new generations now growing up. Society and government must give young people their chance and must above all ensure that they are given the all-important opportunity of training under a more modern and efficient educational system that can promote talent and reward ability.

More growth, more development in the Mezzogiorno, more of a future for the young and more social justice. We know that the reforms and decisions required cannot be postponed. Just recently the Government announced two very important initiatives, one on the reform of unemployment benefits and the other on fiscal reform. The first is specifically intended at last to provide security and protection to those engaged in very flexible and temporary forms of employment. The proposed fiscal reform is also absolutely crucial. For this is a sector where there can be no question of continuing to apply "fixes" and where a comprehensive analysis and plan has to be presented and debated. Such a debate should include a renewed awareness of the very difficult problem of the national debt. Meanwhile Parliament has undertaken to restore public finances with the law on fiscal federalism and to keep spending under control with a new system of budgetary laws and procedures. Both reforms have already been voted by a wide majority in Parliament.

Let me now turn to institutional reform and to the judicial reform that people talk about so much. I have expressed my opinion on the subject on a number of occasions. Considering the question solely from the point of view of the general interest I have argued that those reforms, like the others I mentioned before, cannot be delayed because they are needed in order for the public sector to function more efficiently in the service of citizens and of the country's growth. They are therefore no less important than economic and social reform and cannot be blocked because the mood between political parties is one of mutual suspicion and all kinds of preconditions have been set. The Constitution can be revised - as is proposed by various political forces - as far as its second part is concerned. It can be modified according to the procedures established by the Constitution itself. The essential thing is that - with a renewed foundation in the principles lying at the basis of our being together as a nation - the fundamental checks and balances between Government and Parliament, and between executive, legislative and watchdog institutions continue to be guaranteed and that rules are established which both the Government and the opposition abide by.

I have urged the use of prudence, realism and determination to reach the broadest possible consensus, as the Senate recently and unanimously also suggested. I should like to say I am confident that things will continue to move forward and not come to halt amid useless recriminations and quarrels.
The new impetus Italy needs to move beyond the crisis towards a more secure future needs reforms, needs conviction and participation from all sectors of society and requires also that we rediscover the values we all hold in common. Values such as solidarity: the country has shown a rich store of solidarity in a year marked by tragic and painful events and most recently by disastrous floods. Eloquent too was the solidarity and fraternal assistance shown to the people of L'Aquila and the Abbruzzo region after the devastating earthquake they suffered, and the deeply-felt support expressed to the families of the troops fallen in Afghanistan. And Italians, as ever, engaged generously in many deserving causes, in charities, in concrete and affectionate assistance to the physically and mentally challenged, to the poor, to the old and lonely and in support of the fight against the most insidious diseases, including those affecting many children.

We need to stand together in all the situations where people suffer, if only because that is when people feel deprived of their basic rights. I am thinking of prisoners in terribly overcrowded jails where a decent life is impossible and where people are exposed to abuse and danger and are certainly not going to be reeducated.

Solidarity also means understanding and hospitality towards the foreigners coming to Italy in accordance with established procedures and limits in order to engage in honest work or find refuge from wars and persecution. Even in their severity, policies aimed at affirming the rule of law and at guaranteeing security should not make people lower their guard against racism and xenophobia. They cannot be misinterpreted and used as a pretext by those who would introduce hateful forms of exclusion that negate any spirit of hospitality. From that point of view also, care should be taken to foster the unity and civil quality of Italian society.

Civil quality, quality of life - those aspects should be considered as essential in gauging a society's condition, its degree of well-being and human progress. The factors which increasingly count are not merely material but moral ones, which lend meaning to the lives of people and of society as a whole and constitute its connective tissue.

We must rediscover and reaffirm values that have been too widely ignored or denied in recent times. That includes greater respect of one's own duty towards the community, the adoption of more sober lifestyles, greater care and solidarity in relations with others, the intransigent refusal of violence and of all the fatal suggestions that young people may be prone to.

I find it important that when heeding the call to solidarity and moral values we hear the voice and see the efforts being made by clerics and lay people, by the Church and the Catholic sector. Similarly, in the debate over a new concept of development - one taking account of the lessons learned in the recent crisis and of the fears concerning the climate and the environment - we find the inspiration and the thinking of His Holiness the Pope. I believe the need for the Italian nation to stand united is also felt in those circles.In fact it is not true that our country is divided on everything. It is more united than might appear looking only at the tensions on the political stage. My duty is to try to lower those tensions. It is an effort which I hope may bear fruit, as it seemed to following the serious incident of the attack on the Prime Minister. In future everyone should avoid using dangerous, exasperatedly controversial language and contribute to a return to clear- headedness and measured tones in political debate.
I can assure you that I am determined to continue in my efforts on behalf of greater national unity. Those efforts still require time and patience but I shall not desist.

One reason is that, as President of all Italians nothing is more comforting to me than to contribute to the serenity of all of you. I was moved by the words of the commander of a unit of our dear soldiers participating in a mission abroad. He told me - ten days ago in a Christmastime video-conference - that he and his "boys" find serenity in my messages whenever they can catch them on television.

Yes, all citizens need greater serenity in difficult times like these - workers, the unemployed, young people beset by pressing problems, all those working for the recovery of our economy and all those scrupulously serving the State. I am thinking in particular of the armed forces who are called on to maintain peace and international stability and of the people working in law enforcement who are fighting organized crime with increasing success.
All those holding positions of responsibility in politics and society should respond to their need.

I feel I am able to transmit serenity and hope to you today. Hope looking at Italy, a country that has shown it is determined to, and can react in the face of difficulties. Hope looking at the world scene, despite the fact that it is troubled and shaken by conflicts and threats including the renewed, ever worrisome, menace of terrorism. Hope because new beacons for our common future have come from America and its young President. They have been lit in all the countries which have undertaken a great process of cooperation and reconciliation, from our own Europe which has chosen to strengthen its unity and renew its role and offers to others the example of our peace in liberty.

That is my message and my hope for 2010 to you Italians, men and women of all generations and from all walks of life celebrating the New Year with your dearest ones, or perhaps far from Italy's shores but with Italy in your hearts.

Once again, a Happy New Year to all of you.