Full translation of the programmatic declarations of Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni requesting the vote of confidence in the Chamber of Deputies on October 26, 2022.
Mr. President, honorable colleagues,
I have spoken many times in this House, as a Member of Parliament, as Vice-President of the House, as Minister of Youth; yet, the solemnity is such that I think I have never been able to speak without a feeling of emotion and deep respect in me. It applies, of course, all the more so today that I am addressing you in my capacity as Prime Minister to ask you to express your confidence in a government under my leadership. A great responsibility for those who must gain and deserve that trust, and a great responsibility for those who must grant or deny it. These are the fundamental moments of our democracy, to which we must never become accustomed. That is why I want to thank, right away, those who will speak out in this House according to their own beliefs, whatever choice they make.
My sincere gratitude goes to the President of the Republic, Sergio Mattarella, who, in following up on the indication clearly expressed by the Italians last September 25, did not want to make me lack his valuable advice. Gratitude goes, of course, to the parties in the governing coalition, to my Fratelli d'Italia, the League, Forza Italia, Noi Moderati and their leaders, to that Center-Right which, after asserting itself in the elections, has given birth to this Government in one of the shortest periods of time in republican history, and I believe that this is the most tangible sign of a cohesion that, when tested, always manages to overcome different sensibilities, in the name of a higher interest. The celerity of these days was only natural for us, but it was also our duty, because the very difficult condition in which Italy finds itself does not allow us to hesitate or waste time, and we do not intend to do so. And I also want to thank for that my predecessor, President Mario Draghi, who, both nationally and internationally, has, in recent weeks, offered all his willingness so that there would be a quick and calm handover with the new Government, of course, even though, ironically, that Government was led by the president of the only opposition party to the Executive he chaired. There has been a lot of fudging on this aspect, but I want to tell you that I think there is nothing strange about it. This is how it should always be, this is how it is in great democracies.
And, among the many burdens I feel weighing on my shoulders today, there cannot but be that of being the first woman to head the government in this Nation. When I reflect on the magnitude of this fact, I inevitably find myself thinking of the responsibility I have to all those women who at this time face great and unfair difficulties in asserting their talents or, more bluntly, their right to see an appreciation of their daily sacrifices. But I also think, with reverence, of those who have built, with the planks of their example, the ladder that today allows me to climb and break the heavy crystal roof over our heads. Women who dared, out of impetus, out of reason, or out of love. Like Cristina [Trivulzio di Belgioioso], elegant organizer of salons and barricades. Or like Rosalie [Montmasson], stubborn enough to leave with the [Garibaldi's] Thousand who made Italy. Like Alfonsina [Strada] who rode hard against the winds of prejudice. Like Maria [Montessori] or Grazia [Deledda] who by their example opened wide the gates of education to girls all over the country. And then Tina [Anselmi], Nilde [Jotti], Rita [Levi Montalcini], Oriana [Fallaci], Ilaria [Alpi], Mariagrazia [Cutuli], Fabiola [Giannotti], Marta [Cartabia], Elisabetta [Casellati], Samantha [Cristoforetti], Chiara [Corbella Petrillo]. Thank you! Thank you for demonstrating the value of Italian women, as I hope to be able to do now as well.
But my most heartfelt thanks, of course, go to the Italian people, to those who decided not to miss the election and cast their vote, allowing the full realization of the democratic path, which sees in the people, and only in the people, the holder of sovereignty, with regret, however, for the very many who have renounced the exercise of this civic duty, enshrined in the Constitution, citizens who increasingly consider their vote useless, because they say: "Somebody else will decide anyway; it's decided in palaces or exclusive circles." Unfortunately, this has often been the case over the past 11 years, with a series of government majorities that are fully constitutionally legitimate but dramatically distant from voters' indications.
We, today, disrupt this great Italian anomaly, giving birth to a political government, fully representative of the people's will. And we intend to do so by fully assuming the rights and duties incumbent on those who win elections: to be a parliamentary majority and government team for five years, doing so to the best of our ability, always putting the Nation's interest before partisan and party interests. We will not use the vote of millions of Italians to replace one system of power with another different and opposing one.
What we want to do is unleash the best energies of this nation and guarantee Italians, all Italians, a future of greater freedom, justice, well-being and security. And if in order to do that we have to displease some potentates or make choices that may not be immediately understood by some citizens, we will not back down, because we certainly do not lack courage.
We went into the election campaign with a Coalition Government framework program and with more articulated programs from the individual parties. The voters chose the Center-Right and, within the coalition, they rewarded certain proposals more than others. We will keep those commitments, because the bond between representative and represented is the very core of democracy. I am well aware that some observers and opposition political forces will not like many of our proposals, but I do not intend to go along with that drift according to which democracy belongs to some more than to others and that an undesirable election outcome should not be accepted and should, indeed, be prevented from being realized, by whatever means. In the last few days there have been several people, even outside our national borders, who have said that they want to watch over the new government. I would say that they can spend their time better. There are good and embattled opposition forces in this House and in our Parliament, more than capable of making their voices heard, without - I hope - any outside help.
I want to hope that those forces agree with me that those from abroad who say they want to watch over Italy are not disrespecting me or this government: they are disrespecting the Italian people, who have no lessons to take.
Italy is rightfully part of the West and its alliance system, a founding state of the European Union, the Eurozone and the Atlantic Alliance, a member of the G7 and, even before all this, the cradle, together with Greece, of Western civilization and its value system, founded on freedom, equality and democracy, the valuable fruits flowing from Europe's classical and Judeo-Christian roots. We are the heirs of St. Benedict, an Italian, the main patron saint of the whole of Europe.
Europe. Let me, speaking of Europe, first of all thank the top leaders of the EU institutions, the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, the President of the Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, the President of the European Parliament, Roberta Metsola, the President-in-Office of the Council, my friend Petr Fiala, and with them, the many Heads of State and Government who, in these hours, have wished me well in my work. Of course, I am not unaware of the curiosity and interest in the posture that the Government will hold towards the European institutions or, even better, I would like to say within the European institutions, because that is the place where Italy will make its voice heard loudly, as befits a great founding Nation. Not to hold back or sabotage European integration, as I have sometimes heard, even in recent weeks, but to help steer it toward greater effectiveness in responding to crises and external threats and toward an approach closer to citizens and businesses.
We, to put it bluntly, do not conceive of the European Union as an elitist club, with first-class and second-class members or, worse, as a corporation limited by shares and run by a board of directors, with the sole task of keeping accounts in order. For us, the European Union is the common home of the European peoples and, as such, it must be able to meet the great challenges of our time, starting with those that the member states can hardly face alone. I am thinking of trade agreements of course, but also of the supply of raw materials and energy, of migration policies, of geopolitical choices, of the fight against terrorism, great challenges for which the European Union has not always been ready.
Because, colleagues, how was it possible that an integration that was born in 1950, 70 years ago, as the Coal and Steel Economic Community, 70 years later finds itself, after having expanded its spheres of competence by leaps and bounds, to be more vulnerable precisely in the area of energy supply and raw materials?
Those who ask these questions are not enemies or heretics, but pragmatists who are not afraid to say when something is not working as well as it could. What is needed is more effective integration in facing the great challenges, in keeping with that founding motto that reads, "United in diversity," for that is the great European distinctiveness, nations with millennia-old histories, capable of coming together, each bringing its own identity as added value. A common European home certainly means shared rules also in the economic-financial sphere. This government will respect the rules currently in force and, at the same time, offer its contribution to change those that have not worked, starting with the ongoing debate on the reform of the Stability and Growth Pact.
Because of its strength and history, Italy has the duty, even before the right, to stand tall in these international forums, with a constructive spirit, but without subalternity or inferiority complexes, as has too often seemed to occur in the past, combining the assertion of its national interest with an awareness of a common European and Western destiny.
The Atlantic Alliance guarantees our democracies a framework of peace and security that we all too often take for granted; it is Italy's duty to contribute fully to it, because, whether we like it or not, freedom has a cost, and that cost, for a country, is the ability to defend itself and the reliability it demonstrates in the framework of the alliances to which it belongs. Italy, over the years, has been able to demonstrate this, starting with the many international missions in which we have been prominent, and for this I want to thank the women and men of our Armed Forces for holding up Italy's prestige in the most difficult contexts, even at the cost of their own lives: the Fatherland will always be grateful!
Italy will continue to be a reliable partner in the Atlantic Alliance, starting with supporting the valiant Ukrainian people who oppose the invasion by the Russian Federation, not only because we cannot accept the war of aggression and the violation of the territorial integrity of a sovereign nation, but also because it is the best way to defend our national interest. Only an Italy that honors its commitments can have the authority to demand, at the European and Western levels, for example, that the burdens of the international crisis be shared in a more balanced way, and that is what we intend to do, starting with the energy issue.
The war has exacerbated the already very difficult situation caused by increases in energy and fuel costs, costs that are unsustainable for many businesses that may be forced to close and lay off their workers and for millions of families who are already unable to cope with rising energy bills. But those who believe that it is possible to trade Ukraine's freedom for our peace of mind are wrong. Giving in to Putin's blackmail on energy would not solve the problem, it would exacerbate it, paving the way for further demands and blackmail, with future energy increases even greater than those we have experienced in recent months. The signals that came from the last European Council represent a step forward achieved also thanks to the efforts of my predecessor and of Minister Cingolani, but they are still insufficient. The absence even today of a common response leaves, as the only outlet, that of measures by individual national governments that risk undermining the internal market and the competitiveness of our companies.
Regarding prices, while it is true that merely having discussed containment measures has momentarily curbed speculation, it is clear that if announcements are not quickly followed up with concrete mechanisms, speculation will resume. This is also why it will be necessary to maintain and strengthen national measures to support families and businesses, both on the bills and fuel side, a massive financial commitment that will drain a large part of the resources available and force us to postpone other measures that we would have liked to initiate as early as the next budget law. But our priority today must be to curb the high energy price and accelerate, by all means, the diversification of sources of supply and domestic production, because I want to believe that out of the tragedy of the energy crisis may emerge, paradoxically, also an opportunity for Italy. Our seas possess gas deposits that we have a duty to fully exploit, and our nation, particularly the South, is a paradise for renewables, with its sun, wind, the heat of the earth, tides, rivers, a wealth of green energy too often blocked by bureaucracy and incomprehensible vetoes. In short, I am convinced that Italy, with a little courage and practical spirit, could emerge from this crisis stronger and more autonomous than before.
In addition to high energy prices, Italian households are facing a level of inflation that has reached 11.1 percent year-on-year and is inexorably eroding their purchasing power, despite the fact that some of these increases have been absorbed by companies. It is essential to intervene with measures aimed at increasing the disposable income of families, starting with reducing taxes on productivity bonuses, further raising the exemption threshold for so-called fringe benefits, enhancing corporate welfare, succeeding in broadening the range of primary goods that enjoy reduced VAT at 5 percent. Concrete measures that we will also address with the next budget law, on which we are already working.
The context in which the government will be operating is a very complicated one, perhaps the most difficult since World War II. Geopolitical tensions and the energy crisis are holding back hopes for a post-pandemic economic recovery. Macroeconomic forecasts for 2023 indicate a marked slowdown in the Italian, European and world economies, in a mood, moreover, of absolute uncertainty. The European Central Bank in September revised its 2023 growth forecast for the euro area, cutting by as much as 1.2 percentage points from its June forecast, predicting growth of just 0.9 percent. Slowdown and downward revisions that also obviously affect the performance of the Italian economy for next year. In the latest update note to the Economic and Financial Document (DEF), the GDP growth forecast for 2023 stalls at 0.6 percent, exactly a quarter of the 2.4 percent forecast in the April EDEF, and the Ministry of Finance's forecasts are even optimistic compared to the International Monetary Fund's most recent ones, according to which for the Italian economy 2023 will be a year of recession: minus 0.2 percent, the worst result among the world's major economies after Germany's. And this is not, unfortunately, an isolated juncture; the data are clear. Over the past two decades, Italy has grown by a total of 4 percent, while France and Germany by more than 20 percent; in the past ten years, our nation has ranked in the last places in Europe for economic and employment growth, with the sole exception of the rebound recorded after the GDP collapse in 2020. It is no coincidence that it was ten years during which there was a series of weak, heterogeneous governments without a clear popular mandate, incapable of resolving the structural deficiencies from which Italy and its economy suffer and of laying the foundations for sustained and lasting growth.
Low or zero growth, therefore, accompanied by the surge in inflation that has exceeded 9 percent in the euro area and prompted the European Central Bank, like other central banks, to raise interest rates for the first time in eleven years. A decision considered by many to be risky and likely to affect bank lending to households and businesses, and which comes on top of the one already taken by the same central bank to end as of July 1, 2022 the program to purchase fixed-income securities on the open market, creating an additional difficulty for those member states that, like ours, have high public debt. We are therefore in the midst of a storm. Our boat has suffered several damages, and the Italians have entrusted us with the task of steering the ship into port on this very difficult crossing. We were aware of what was ahead of us, as are all the other political forces, even those who, governing in the last ten years, have brought - because this is what the numbers say - a worsening of the main macroeconomic fundamentals, and today they will of course say that they have the solution recipes and are ready to blame the new government for the difficulties Italy is facing. We were aware of the boulder we were carrying on our shoulders. We fought anyway to assume this responsibility because, first, we are not people accustomed to running away and, second, because our vessel, Italy, with all its dents, remains "the most beautiful ship in the world," to quote the famous expression used by the American aircraft carrier "Independence" when it encountered the training ship "Amerigo Vespucci". A solid vessel to which no destination is precluded if it decides to resume its voyage. So we are here to try to mend the torn sails, fix the hull planks, overcome the waves that break over us, with the compass of our beliefs to show us the course to our chosen destination and with a crew that is capable of performing its duties to the best of its ability.
We have been asked how we intend to appease investors in the face of a debt at 145 percent of GDP, second in Europe only to that of Greece. We could answer by citing some of our economy's fundamentals that remain solid nonetheless: we are among the few European nations in constant primary surplus, that is, the state spends less than it collects, net of interest on debt; private savings of Italian households have surpassed the 5 trillion euro threshold and in a climate of confidence could support investment in the real economy. But even more important than these figures, which are already significant, are the still untapped potential Italy has. I feel like saying that, if this government succeeds in doing what it has in mind, betting on Italy could be not only a safe investment, but maybe even a good deal, because the horizon we want to look at is not next year or the next election deadline. What we are interested in is what Italy will look like ten years from now, and I am prepared to do what needs to be done, at the cost of not being understood, at the cost of even not being re-elected, to make sure that I have made, through my work and our work, the future of this Nation smoother.
The way to reduce debt is not through the blind austerity imposed in past years, nor is it through more or less creative financial adventurism. The high road, the only possible one, is economic growth, lasting and structural.
And to achieve it, we are of course open to encouraging foreign investment: if, on the one hand, we will counter predatory attitudes that jeopardize strategic national productions, on the other hand, we will be open to welcoming and stimulating those foreign companies that choose to invest in Italy, bringing development, employment and know-how, in a logic of mutual benefits.
This is the context for the National Recovery and Resilience Plan (NRRP). Funds raised through the issuance of common European debt to cope with global crises. A proposal made at the time by the center-right government, with then-Minister Giulio Tremonti, for years opposed, sometimes mocked, then implemented. The NRRP is an extraordinary opportunity to modernize Italy: we all have a duty to make the most of it. The challenge is tricky because of the structural and bureaucratic constraints that have always made it difficult for Italy to be able to fully utilize even European funds from ordinary programming. It is enough to consider that the Update Note to the 2022 DEF reduced public spending triggered by the NRRP to 15 billion compared to the 29.4 projected in last April's DEF. Meeting future deadlines will require even more attention, considering that so far we have mostly accounted for works that have already been started in the past, something that cannot continue to be done in the coming years. We will spend the 68.9 billion in grants and the 122.6 billion loaned to Italy by the Next Generation EU as best we can, without delay and without waste, agreeing with the European Commission on the necessary adjustments to optimize spending, especially against the background of rising commodity prices and the energy crisis, because these matters are addressed with a pragmatic approach and not an ideological one.
The NRRP should be understood not only as a major public spending plan, but as an opportunity to make a real cultural shift. To finally shelve the logic of bonuses, for some, often useful mainly for electoral campaigns, in favor of medium-term investments aimed at the welfare of the entire national community. Remove all obstacles that hold back economic growth and that we have too long resigned ourselves to considering endemic ills of Italy, but are not.
One of these is certainly political instability. For the past twenty years, Italy has had, on average, a government every two years, often changing even the ruling majority. It is the reason why measures that guaranteed certain and immediate approval have always prevailed over strategic choices. It is the reason why bureaucracies have often become untouchable and immune to merit. It is the reason why Italy's negotiating capacity in international bodies has been weak. And it is the reason why foreign investment, which resents the volatility of governments, has been discouraged. It is the reason why we firmly believe that Italy needs a constitutional reform in a presidential direction, one that guarantees stability and restores centrality to popular sovereignty. A reform that enables Italy to move from an "interlocutory democracy" to a "deciding democracy."
We want to start with the hypothesis of semi-presidentialism on the French model, which in the past had also won wide approval from the Center-Left, but we remain open to other solutions as well.
We want to discuss this with all the political forces in Parliament, to arrive at the best and most shared reform possible. But let it be clear that we will not give up reforming Italy if we are faced with prejudicial opposition. In this case, we will move according to the mandate given to us on this issue by the Italians: to give Italy an institutional system in which whoever wins will govern for five years and at the end will be judged by the voters for what he or she has managed to do.
Alongside presidential reform, we intend to follow up on the positive process of differentiated autonomy already initiated by several Italian regions according to constitutional provisions and in implementation of the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity, within a framework of national cohesion. For the Bolzano province, we will deal with the restoration of the standards of autonomy that led to the issuance of the UN release in 1992. It is our intention to complete the process to give Rome Capital the powers and resources that befit a great European capital and to give new centrality to our municipalities. Because every bell tower, every hamlet is a piece of our identity to be defended. I am thinking in particular of those in inland areas, mountainous areas and high lands, which need an allied state to foster residency and fight depopulation.
I am convinced that this turning point we have in mind is also the best opportunity to return to putting the southern issue at the center of the Italian agenda. The South is no longer seen as a problem, but as an opportunity for development for the whole nation.
We will work hard to close an unacceptable infrastructure gap, eliminate disparities, create jobs, ensure social security and improve the quality of life. We must succeed in ending the joke whereby the South exports labor, intelligence and capital that are instead crucial in the very regions from which they leave. This is not an easy goal, of course, but our commitment on it will be total.
And if infrastructure in the South can no longer be postponed, new infrastructure needs to be built in the rest of Italy as well, to enhance connections for people and goods, but also for data and communications. With the goal of stitching together not only the North to the South, but also the Tyrrhenian coast to the Adriatic coast and the islands to the rest of the Peninsula.
Structural investments are needed to deal with the climate crisis, environmental challenges, hydrogeological risk and coastal erosion, and to accelerate the reconstruction processes of the territories affected in recent years by earthquakes and natural disasters, such as the dramatic flooding that devastated the Marche region on the night of September 15-16. Allow me, together with all of you, to renew here our condolences for the victims and our sympathy for the entire community: we are at your side, we will not abandon you, count on us.
We mean to protect national strategic infrastructure by ensuring public ownership of networks, on which companies will be able to offer services under free competition, starting with communications. Digital transition, strongly supported by the NRRP, must go hand in hand with technological sovereignty, national cloud and cyber-security.
And we finally want to introduce a national interest safeguard clause, including in economic terms, for public infrastructure concessions, such as highways and airports. Because the model of oligarchs sitting on oil wells accumulating billions without even providing investment is not a free market model worthy of a Western democracy.
Italy must return to having an industrial policy, focusing on those sectors in which it can count on a competitive advantage. I am thinking of branding, made of fashion, luxury, design, all the way to high technology. Made of products of absolute excellence in agribusiness, which must be defended in Europe and with greater integration of the supply chain at the national level, also to aspire to a full food sovereignty that can no longer be postponed. Which does not mean, of course, putting pineapples out of business, as some have said, but more trivially ensuring that we will not depend on nations far away from us to feed our children. I think of Italy's favorable position in the Mediterranean and the opportunities related to the maritime economy, which can and must become a strategic asset for the whole of Italy and in particular for the development of the South. And I think of beauty.
Yes, because Italy is the nation that more than any other in the world encapsulates the idea of landscape, artistic, narrative, expressive beauty. The whole world knows it, loves us for it and that is why they want to buy Italian, learn about our history and come on vacation to us. It is a pride for sure, but more importantly it is an invaluable economic resource that fuels our tourism and cultural industry. And I would add that going back to focus on the strategic value of being Italian also means promoting the Italian language abroad and enhancing the link with the Italian communities in every part of the world that are an integral part of ours.
For all growth objectives to be achieved, a cultural revolution is needed in the relationship between the state and the production system, which must be equal and of mutual trust. Those who have the strength and will to do business in Italy today should be supported and facilitated, not harassed and looked upon with suspicion, because wealth is created by companies with their workers, not by the state with decrees or edicts. The motto of this government will be "do not disturb those who want to do."
Above all, businesses are asking for less bureaucracy, clear and certain rules, and quick and transparent responses. We will tackle the problem starting with a structural simplification and deregulation of administrative procedures to give a boost to the economy, growth and investment, not least because we all know how excessive legislation, red tape and regulation exponentially increases the risk of irregularities, litigation and corruption. An evil that we have a duty to eradicate.
We need fewer, clearer rules for everyone and a new relationship between citizens and public administration, so that citizens do not feel like weak parties in the face of a tyrant state that does not listen to their needs and frustrates their expectations.
Out of this Copernican revolution will have to come a new tax covenant that will rest on three pillars. The first: to reduce the tax burden on businesses and families through a reform under the banner of fairness; I am thinking, for example, of the gradual introduction of the family quotient, but I am thinking of the extension of the flat tax for VAT numbers from the current 65,000 euros to 100,000 euros of turnover. And, alongside this, start for a flat tax, from the introduction of the flat tax on the increase in income over the maximum reached in the previous three years: a beneficial measure, with limited impact on state treasury, which can be a strong incentive for growth.
The second pillar: a tax truce to enable citizens and businesses, especially SMEs, in trouble to regularize their position with the tax authorities.
And lastly, a relentless fight against evasion, which must start with total evaders, large businesses and large VAT frauds, and above all, it must be a real fight against evasion, not a hunt for revenue. This is the reason why we intend to start with a change in the criteria for assessing the performance of the Internal Revenue Service, which we want to anchor on the amounts actually collected and not on mere disputes, as incredibly has been the case so far.
Businesses and workers have long been calling for the reduction of the tax and contribution wedge as an undeferrable priority. The excessive tax burden on labor is one of the main obstacles to the creation of new jobs and the competitiveness of our companies in international markets. Our goal is to intervene gradually to arrive at a cut of at least five points in the wedge in favor of businesses and workers in order to lighten the tax burden of the former and increase the paychecks of the latter. To incentivize companies to hire, we have in mind a tax mechanism that rewards labor-intensive activities - "the more you hire the less you pay," we summarized it - but of course this must not diminish the necessary support for technological innovation.
Speaking of business and labor, our thoughts turn to the dozens of crisis tables still open, to which we will devote our utmost efforts, and to those thousands of self-employed workers who have not gotten back on their feet since the pandemic. To them, who have often been unjustly treated as children of a lesser God, we want to recognize adequate protections, in line with those rightly guaranteed to employees, because we have always stood by those nearly 5 million self-employed workers, including artisans, shop-owners and freelancers, who constitute a backbone of the Italian economy, and we will not stop now. For us, a worker is a worker.
Adequate protections must also be recognized for those who, after a lifetime of work, retire or would like to retire. We intend to facilitate flexibility on exit with mechanisms compatible with the resilience of the social security system starting, in the short time available for the next budget law, with the renewal of the measures expiring at the end of the year, but the priority for the future must be a pension system that also guarantees the younger generations and those who will receive their checks only on the basis of the contributory system, because it is a social bomb that we continue to ignore, but that in the future will invest millions of current workers who will find themselves with checks that are even much lower than those, already inadequate, that are received today.
There is an issue of rampant poverty that we cannot ignore. His Holiness Pope Francis, to whom I extend affectionate greetings, recently reiterated an important concept: "Poverty," he said, "is not fought with welfarism; the gateway to a man's dignity is work." This is a profound truth that only those who have experienced poverty up close can truly appreciate. This is the road we intend to take: we want to maintain and, where possible, improve the due economic support for the truly fragile who are not in a condition to work: I am thinking of pensioners in difficulty, the disabled, to whom the degree of protection must be increased in every way, and also those without income who have minor children to take care of. They will not be denied the dutiful help of the state, but for the others, for those who are able to work, the solution cannot be citizenship income, but work, training and accompanying them to work, also taking full advantage of the resources and possibilities made available by the European Social Fund, because, as it was conceived and implemented, citizenship income represented a defeat for those who were able to do their part for Italy, as well as for themselves and their families.
And while there are diverse positions on citizenship income in this House, I am sure we all agree on the importance of ending the tragedy of accidents, including fatal ones, at work. The issue here is not to introduce new regulations, but rather to ensure the full implementation of those that exist, because, as the labor union has also reminded us, most recently with last Saturday's demonstration, we cannot accept that an 18-year-old boy like Giuliano De Seta - and I mention him to remember all the victims - should leave home to go to work and never return.
There is a need to bridge the great gap between education and the skills required by the labor market with specific training paths, certainly, but even before that through school and university training that is more attentive to the dynamics of the labor market. Education is the most formidable tool for increasing a nation's wealth, in all respects, because material capital is nothing if there is no human capital as well.
This is why schools and universities will return central to government action, because they represent a fundamental strategic resource for Italy, its future and its young people. There has been controversy over our choice to revive the correlation between education and merit. I remain frankly impressed. Several studies show how, today, those who live in an affluent family have an extra chance to make up for the shortcomings of a school system that has been flattened downward, while students with fewer resources are harmed by an education that would not reward merit, because no one else will fill those gaps.
Italy is not a country for young people. Our society over time has become increasingly disinterested in their future, even in the widespread phenomenon of those young people who exclude themselves from the educational and work cycle, as well as in the growing emergency of deviance, made up of drugs, alcoholism, crime. And the pandemic has definitely worsened this condition, and in the face of this worrying scenario, the main proposal of certain politicians in recent months has been to promise everyone free cannabis, because it was the easiest answer. But we, unlike others, are not here to do the easy thing. We intend: to work on the all-round growth of young people; to promote artistic and cultural activities and, alongside these, sports, an extraordinary instrument of sociality, human formation and well-being; to work on schooling, mostly entrusted to the self-sacrifice and talent of our teachers, who are often left alone to swim in a sea of structural, technological and motivational deficiencies; to guarantee decent salaries and protections, scholarships for the deserving, to encourage business culture and honor loans. We owe it to these young people, from whom we have taken everything away and only left them with debts to repay! And we owe it to Italy, which 161 years ago was unified by the young heroes of the Risorgimento and which today, from the enthusiasm and courage of its young people, can and must be rebuilt!
We know that young people particularly care about defending the natural environment. We will take it upon ourselves, because, as Roger Scruton, one of the greatest masters of European conservative thought, had written, "ecology is the most vivid example of the alliance between those who are there, those who have been there, and those who will come after us." Protecting our natural heritage engages us in exactly the same way as protecting the heritage of culture, traditions and spirituality that we inherited from our fathers so that we could pass it on to our children. There is no ecologist more convinced than a conservative; but what distinguishes us from certain ideological environmentalism is that we want to defend nature with humans in it, combining environmental, economic and social sustainability. Accompanying businesses and citizens toward the green transition, without consigning ourselves to new strategic dependencies and respecting the principle of technological neutrality: this will be our approach.
I think I know quite well the universe of youth engagement, a wonderful training ground for life, regardless of the political ideas one chooses to defend and promote. I confess that it will be difficult for me not to feel a surge of sympathy even for those who will take to the streets to challenge the policies of our government, because inevitably a story that was also my own will return to my mind. I have participated in so many demonstrations, I have organized so many demonstrations in my life, and I think that has taught me much more than many other things have taught me. So, I want to speak to these kids who will inevitably take to the streets against us as well. I remember a quote from Steve Jobs, who said, "Stay hungry, stay foolish." I would also like to add, "Stay free," because it is in free will that is the greatness of human beings.
Then there is another important educational institution, next to school and university, perhaps the most important of all, and it is obviously the family, the primary nucleus of our societies, the cradle of affection and the place where the identity of each of us is formed; we intend to support and protect it and, with it, support the birth rate, which in 2021 has recorded the lowest birth rate since the Unification of Italy to date; to get out of the demographic glaciation and return to producing those years of the future, that demographic GDP we need, we need a massive plan, economic but also cultural, to rediscover the beauty of parenthood and put the family back at the center of society. It is, then, a commitment of ours, also made in the election campaign, to increase the amounts of the universal single allowance and help young couples obtain a mortgage for their first home, while also working progressively for the introduction of the family quotient. And since family projects go hand in hand with work, we want to incentivize women's employment in every way, rewarding those companies that adopt policies that offer effective solutions to reconcile home-work time and supporting municipalities to guarantee free daycare centers that are open until store and office closing hours. Italy needs a new intergenerational alliance that has the family as its pillar and strengthens the bond that unites the generations, children with grandparents, young people with the elderly, who must, in turn, be protected, valued and supported because they represent our roots and our history.
Montesquieu said that "freedom is that good which makes one enjoy every other good." Freedom is the foundation of a true society of opportunity; it is freedom that must guide our actions, freedom to be, to do, to produce. A center-right government will never restrict the existing freedoms of citizens and businesses. We will see, when all's said and done, including on civil rights and abortion, who was lying and who was telling the truth in the election campaign about what our real intentions were.
Freedom. Freedom and democracy are the distinctive elements of contemporary European civilization, in which I have always recognized myself and, therefore, even here, in spite of what has been pretextually claimed, I have never felt sympathy or closeness towards anti-democratic regimes; for any regime, including fascism, just as I have always considered the racial laws of 1938 the lowest point in Italian history, a disgrace that will mark our people forever.
The totalitarianisms of the twentieth century tore apart the whole of Europe, not just Italy, for more than half a century, in a succession of horrors that affected most European states. And horror and crimes, by whomever they are committed, do not deserve any justification whatsoever and are not compensated for by other horrors and other crimes. In the abyss one never gets even: one just plummets.
I knew at a very young age the scent of freedom, the anxiety for historical truth and the rejection of any form of abuse of power or discrimination precisely by militating in the Italian democratic right. A community of men and women that has always acted in the light of day and in full force in our republican institutions, even in the darkest years of criminalization and political violence, when, in the name of militant anti-fascism, innocent young men were killed by blows with wrenches. That long season of losses perpetuated the hatred of civil war and pushed away a national pacification that precisely the Italian democratic right, more than anyone else, has always hoped for.
Since then, the political community from which I come has been steadily moving forward, toward a full and conscious historicization of the twentieth century, has assumed important governmental responsibilities, swearing an oath to the Republican Constitution, as we had the honor of doing again a few hours ago. It has affirmed and embodied, without any ambiguity, the values of liberal democracy, which are the basis of the common identity of the Italian Center-Right and from which we will not deflect an inch. We will fight all forms of racism, anti-Semitism, political violence and discrimination.
And freedom has been much discussed in the pandemic era. COVID entered our lives almost three years ago and led to the deaths of more than 177,000 people, in Italy. If we have come out of the emergency at the moment, it is mainly thanks to the health personnel, the professionalism and self-sacrifice with which they saved thousands of lives. To them, once again, goes our gratitude. And, with them, my thanks go to the workers of critical services, who never stopped, and to the extraordinary reality of our NGOs, a virtuous representative of those intermediate bodies that we consider vital to society.
Unfortunately, we cannot rule out a new wave of COVID or the emergence of a new pandemic in the future, but we can learn from the past so that we are prepared. Italy has adopted the most restrictive measures in the entire West, going so far as to severely restrict the basic freedoms of people and economic activities, but despite this, it is among the worst-performing states in terms of mortality and contagions. Something definitely did not work and, therefore, I want to say, as of now, that we will not, under any circumstances, replicate that model.
Correct information, prevention, and accountability are more effective than coercion, in all areas, and listening to doctors in the field is more valuable than guidelines written by some bureaucrat when dealing with flesh-and-blood patients. Above all, if accountability is demanded of citizens, the first ones who have to demonstrate it are those who demand it. There will need to be clarity about what happened during the management of the pandemic crisis: it is owed to those who lost their lives and those who did not spare themselves in hospital wards, while others did multimillion-dollar business with the buying and selling of masks and respirators.
Legality will be the guiding star of government action. I started doing politics when I was 15 years old, as many people know by now, in the aftermath of the Via D'Amelio massacre, in which the Mafia killed Judge Paolo Borsellino. I started doing politics then, driven by the idea that one could not stand by and watch, that anger and indignation had to be somehow translated into civic engagement. The path that has led me today to be Prime Minister of Italy stems from the example of that hero. When, after reading the list of ministers, I came to see [Chamber of Deputies'] President Fontana a couple of days ago, I walked into Montecitorio and, when I found, at the beginning and the end of the grand staircase, a picture of Paolo Borsellino, I thought it closed a circle.
We will face the Mafia cancer head-on, as we were taught by the many heroes whose courage set an example for all Italians, refusing to turn their eyes or run away even when they knew that that tenacity would probably lead them to death. Magistrates, politicians, escort agents, military personnel, ordinary citizens, priests; giants such as Giovanni Falcone, Francesca Morvillo, Rosario Livatino, Rocco Chinnici, Pio La Torre, Carlo Alberto Dalla Chiesa, Piersanti Mattarella, Emanuela Loi, Libero Grassi, Don Pino Puglisi, and with them a very long list of men and women we will not forget. The fight against the Mafia will find us at the forefront; from this government criminals and mafiosi will have only contempt and intransigence!
And legality also means a justice system that works, with effective equality between prosecution and defense and a reasonable length of trials, which is not only a matter of legal civilization and respect for citizens' fundamental rights, but also of economic growth. Slow justice costs us at least one point of GDP per year, according to Bankitalia estimates. We will work to restore to citizens the guarantee of living in a safe nation, putting back at the center the fundamental principle of the certainty of punishment, thanks also to a new prison plan. Since the beginning of this year, there have been 71 prison suicides. This is unworthy of a civilized Nation, just as unworthy are often the working conditions of our prison officers.
With the same determination, we will also review the reform of the judiciary, to put an end to the factional logic that undermines the credibility of the Italian judiciary. And let me say one more thing: we have made a commitment to limit the excess of discretion in juvenile justice, with guaranteed and objective foster care and adoption procedures, so that there will never be another Bibbiano case. We intend to carry out this commitment.
Italians feel the unbearable burden of insecure cities, where there is no immediate protection, where the absence of the state is felt. We want to make a commitment to bring citizens closer to institutions, but also to bring back the physical presence of the state in every city. We want to make security a hallmark of this Government, alongside our Law Enforcement, whom I want to thank today, here, for the self-sacrifice with which they do their work, under often impossible conditions and with a state that sometimes gave the impression of being more sympathetic to those who threatened our security than it was to those who risked their lives to guarantee that security!
Security and legality, of course, are also about proper management of migration flows. According to a simple principle: in Italy, as in any other serious state, one does not enter illegally; one enters legally, through "flow decrees."
In these years of terrible inability to find the right solutions to the various migration crises, too many men, women and children have found their deaths at sea in an attempt to reach Italy. Too many times we have said "never again," only to repeat it again and again. This government wants, therefore, to pursue a road little traveled to date: stopping illegal departures, finally breaking the trafficking of human beings in the Mediterranean.
Our intention is still the same, but, if you don't want us to talk about a naval blockade, I will say it this way: it is our intention to recover the original proposal of the European Union's Sophia naval mission, which in the third phase, which was planned and never implemented, was precisely to block the departure of boats from North Africa. We intend to propose it at the European level, implement it in agreement with the North African authorities, accompanied by the creation on African soil of hotspots run by international organizations, where we can screen asylum claims and distinguish those who have the right to be received in Europe from those who do not have that right, because we do not intend, in any way, to question the right to asylum for those fleeing war and persecution!
All we want to do in relation to the issue of immigration is to prevent smugglers from making the selection of entry into Italy.
And then one last thing will be missing, perhaps the most important: removing the causes that lead migrants, especially the youngest, to leave their land, their cultural roots and their families to seek a better life in Europe. Next October 27 will mark the 60th anniversary of the death of Enrico Mattei, a great Italian who was among the architects of post-war reconstruction, capable of making agreements of mutual convenience with nations all over the world. Here, I believe that Italy should become the promoter of a "Mattei plan" for Africa, a virtuous model of collaboration and growth between the European Union and African nations, also to counter the worrying spread of Islamist radicalism, especially in the sub-Saharan area. And so we would like to finally recover, after years in which we preferred to backtrack, the strategic role that Italy has in the Mediterranean.
I am going to conclude, colleagues, thanking you, of course, for your patience. It is not going to be an easy navigation, that of the government that is about to ask for the confidence of the Parliament, because of the seriousness of the choices that we will have to face, but also because of, let's say, a political bias that I often catch in the analyses that concern us. I believe, however, that, in part, it is justified. After all, I am the first woman to come to the Presidency of the Council, I come from a political history that has often been relegated to the margins of republican history, and I do not get there in the arms of a favorable family background or thanks to important friendships; I am what the English would call an underdog, let's say, the outsider, the one who, in order to succeed, must upset all the odds. That's what I intend to do again, overturn the predictions, with the help of a good team of ministers and undersecretaries, with the trust and support of those who will choose to vote for us, with the criticism that will come from those who will vote against this government, because, at the end of this adventure, I will be interested in only one thing: to know that we have done all we can do to give the Italians a better Nation. Sometimes we will succeed, sometimes we will fail, but rest assured that we will not back down, we will not throw in the towel, we will not betray.
The day our government was sworn into the hands of the Head of State marked the liturgical memory of John Paul II, a Pontiff, a statesman, a saint whom I had the honor of knowing personally. He taught me something fundamental that I have always treasured. "Freedom," he said, "does not consist in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we should." I have always been a free person, I will always be a free person and, because of that, I intend to do exactly what I have to.
President of the Council of the Republic of Italy. President of Fratelli d'Italia and the Party of European Conservatives and Reformists, she served as Minister of Youth (2008-2011) and Vice-President of the Chamber of Deputies (2006-2008). Member of Parliament for five terms.