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Here are the main things Italian PM Giuseppe Conte said in his first speech

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte made his maiden speech to parliament on Tuesday, the first time the new premier has spoken in public since he was sworn in last week. Here are the highlights.

Here are the main things Italian PM Giuseppe Conte said in his first speech
Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte shakes hands after his speech. Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP
  • On leading a 'government of change'

“I offer myself to you and – through you [parliament] – to the public, as the lawyer for the interests of the Italian people. […]

“The political forces that make up the majority of this government have been accused of being 'populist' and 'anti-system' […] If 'populism' means the ruling classes listening to the needs of the people [and] if 'anti-system' means aiming to introduce an new system that does away with old privileges and encrusted power, then these political forces deserve both those terms. […]

“The people spoke and demanded change.”

READ MORE: Who is Giuseppe Conte, the political novice made Italy's populist PM?


Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

  • On Italy in Europe

“One of our objectives is to eliminate the growth gap between Italy and the European Union […] In Europe, these issues will be strongly put forward with the aim of changing its governance, a change already under reflection and discussion in all EU member states.

“We are optimistic about the outcome of these discussions and confident in our negotiating power, because we are facing a situation in which Italy's interests, in this phase of the European project, coincide with the general interests of Europe and the aim of preventing its possible decline.

“Europe is our home. As a founding member we have every right to demand a stronger, fairer Europe in which the economic and monetary union is geared towards protecting the needs of its citizens, to balance the principles of responsibility and solidarity more effectively.”

ANALYSIS: How EU founder member Italy went eurosceptic

  • On immigration

“The first litmus test of the new way we want to negotiate with our European partners will be the issue of immigration. It's clear to everyone that the management of migrant flows has been a failure: Europe has allowed many member states selfish border closures, which have ended up burdening frontline states and especially our country, with costs and difficulties that should have been shared.

“We will call strongly for the Dublin Regulation to be overhauled in order to ensure that the principle of fair distribution of responsibilities is respected, and to achieve an automatic system of obligatory resettlement of asylum seekers. […]

We are not and will never be racist. We want the procedures determining refugee status to be definite and swift, in order to guarantee their rights more effectively too.

READ ALSO: Italy calls for tougher reforms of EU's asylum rules


Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP

“We defend and will defend immigrants who arrive legally in our country, who work and integrate themselves in our community while respecting the law and making a positive contribution to development. But to guarantee this indispensable integration, we must not only combat the most vile forms of exploitation linked to human trafficking […] but also reorganize and streamline our reception system, assuring transparency on the use of public funds and wiping out all infiltration by organized crime groups.”

Conte concluded this part of his speech by mentioning Soumaila Sacko, a Malian immigrant shot dead in southern Italy last weekend, who he said was among thousands of legal migrant labourers living and working in Italy in miserable conditions. His words were met with applause, including from the opposition. 

  • On foreign policy

“We intend firstly to reaffirm our committed membership of Nato, with the United States as our particular ally.

“We will support an opening towards Russia, which in recent years has strengthened its international role in various geopolitical crises. We will push for a review of the system of sanctions, starting with those that risk demeaning Russian civil society.” 

  • On debt and austerity

“We want to reduce our public debt, but we want to do so with growth and not with the austerity measures that in recent years have only made it rise. […]

“Italy's public debt is now fully sustainable. Its reduction should nevertheless be pursued, but with a view to economic growth. Fiscal and public spending policy should be geared towards the pursuit of the objectives set for stable and sustainable growth.”

READ ALSO: Why economists are worried about Italian populists' government plan


Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

  • On taxes

“Our tax system is dated and no longer reflects today's socio-economic reality. […] Our tax burden, combined with excessive bureaucracy, negatively impacts the relationship between taxpayers and the state, as well as our country's competitiveness.

Our goal is a 'flat tax', or rather a tax reform characterized by the introduction of fixed rates with a system of deductions that make sure the levy is progressive, in accordance with the principles of the constitution. This is the only way to drastically reduce tax evasion […]

“It is also necessary to toughen the existing penalties to ensure real punishments for the biggest evaders.”

  • On bureaucracy
“We must work to simplify the regulatory framework. Regulatory hypertrophy contributes to legal uncertainty, which ends up benefiting dishonest people and penalizing citizens and businesses that operate legally.
 
“We will reorganize entire sectors of the legal system, repealing unnecessary laws and favouring the reform of existing legislation.”
  • On privileges for politicians
“If ordinary people face a thousand daily struggles because they are out of work, have a pension that doesn't allow them to get by or are working for a negligible salary, it is intolerable that the political class does not bear the due economic consequences. 
 
“We need to cut the pensions and annuities of parliamentarians, regional councillors and those employed by constitutional bodies, bringing them in line with the normal social security system. So-called 'golden pensions' are another example of unmerited privilege that should be opposed: we will act on payments of more than €5,000 monthly if they exceed the contributions paid.”
 
Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP
  • On employment
“We want to build a new social pact that is transparent and fair […]
 
“We want to give voice to the many young people who can't find work and are forced to move abroad or remain here unemployed, [and] to the many women – often better educated and more determined than men – who are still lower paid and unacceptably discriminated against in the workplace, and feel alone when they decide to have a child.
 
“New technologies and the sharing economy are creating new opportunities, but also opening risks of marginalization and new forms of exploitation: we must manage these shifts […] to ensure workers' rights are always protected.”
  • On benefits

“In Italy as in other countries, inequality has worsened and poverty multiplied. […]

“The government's goal is to provide income support for families most affected by socio-economic disadvantages. Benefits will be commensurate with the make-up of the household and will be tied to vocational training and job-seeking. The first step will be to improve job centres […] Then will come income support.

“We also plan to help pensioners who don't have enough to live on with dignity by introducing a universal basic pension.”

  • On healthcare

“[The last government's spending plan] calls for a reduction in expenditure on health. This government's task will be to reverse that trend […]

“Socio-economic differences cannot, must not, affect our citizens' access to healthcare. We will pursue greater efficiency in delivering services, whether in respect to the volume, quality and outcome of treatment, or in respect to managing accounts.”

READ ALSO: Survey reveals 'health gap' between Italy's north and south


Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

  • On small business

“We are aware that our economy's revival depends on the initiative and skill of many small entrepreneurs, professionals and artisans […] We hope to create a favourable environment for them, making public administration not an adversary from which to defend yourself but an ally with whom to cooperate. 

We will favour businesses that innovate, hire new staff and respect the rules of free competition. We intend to promote companies that adopt socially responsible practices and that underpin their economic initiatives with precautions, in order to prevent their activities impacting negatively on the environment and to ensure that circumstances are suited to the protection of workers' rights.”

  • On overseas voting

“We have already begun to reflect on the importance of the overseas voting system and the need to introduce measures to prevent the risk of electoral fraud.”

  • On internet access

“All citizens should be guaranteed access to the internet as a fundamental right and a precondition for the exercize of their democratic rights.”

READ MORE: 


Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP
 

UKRAINE

Berlusconi’s bad break-up with Putin reveals strained Italy-Russia ties

The chummy relationship between former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Russian President Vladimir Putin goes back decades. The invasion of Ukraine has put it under pressure.

Berlusconi's bad break-up with Putin reveals strained Italy-Russia ties

After a tycoon bromance, Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi is struggling to break up with Russia’s Vladimir Putin over the Ukraine war — like many in his country, where ties with Moscow run deep.

The billionaire former premier’s unwillingness to speak ill of Putin is echoed by other leading Italian politicians, while in the media, there are concerns that pro-Russian sentiment has warped into propaganda.

Prime Minister Mario Draghi is committed to NATO and the EU, strongly backing sanctions against Moscow, and at his urging a majority of Italy’s MPs approved sending weapons to help Ukraine defend itself.

But much of Draghi’s coalition government — Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, Matteo Salvini’s League and the once anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) — has long pursued a “special relationship” with Moscow.

Italy used to have the largest Communist party in the West, and many businesses invested in the Soviet Union in the 1960s, while Russians in turn sought opportunities here.

Barely a month before the February 24 invasion, Putin spent two hours addressing top Italian executives at a virtual meeting.

Beds, hats, parties

Berlusconi, 85, has been out of office for more than a decade but remains influential both in politics and through his media interests, as founder of the Mediaset empire.

He was an ardent admirer of the Russian leader, and a close chum — they stayed in each other’s holiday homes, skied together and were snapped sporting giant fur hats.

“They were two autocrats who mutually reinforced their image: power, physical prowess, bravado, glitz,” historian and Berlusconi author Antonio Gibelli told AFP.

Putin gave Berlusconi a four-poster bed, in which the Italian had sex with an escort in 2008, according to her tell-all book. He in turn gave Putin, 69, a duvet cover featuring a life-sized image of the two men.

In the months before the Ukraine war, Berlusconi continued to promote his close ties, including a “long and friendly” New Year’s Eve phone call.

It was not until April, two months after Russia’s invasion, that he publicly criticised the conflict, saying he was “disappointed and saddened” by Putin.

He has struggled to stay on message since then.

Speaking off the cuff in Naples last week, he said he thought “Europe should… try to persuade Ukraine to accept Putin’s demands”, before backtracking and issuing a statement in Kyiv’s support.

“Breaking the twinning with Putin costs Berlusconi dearly: he has to give up a part of his image,” Gibelli said.

Meanwhile, the leader of the anti-immigration League, Salvini, who has proudly posed in Putin T-shirts in the past, has argued against sending weapons to aid Ukraine.

The League did condemn Russia’s military aggression, “no ifs and no buts”, on February 24 when Russia invaded.

But an investigation by the L’Espresso magazine earlier this week found that, in the over 600 messages posted by Salvini on social media since Russia invaded, he had not once mentioned Putin by name.

He did so for the first time on Thursday, saying “dialogue” with Putin was good, and encouraging a diplomatic end to the war.

‘Biased media’

Many pro-Russian figures are given significant airtime in the media, which itself is highly politicised.

“Italy is a G7 country with an incredibly biased media landscape,” Francesco Galietti, founder of risk consultancy Policy Sonar, told AFP.

TV talk shows are hugely popular in Italy, and “one of the main formats of information” for much of the public, notes Roberta Carlini, a researcher at the Centre for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom at the European University Institute.

But she warns they often “obscure facts”.

Italy’s state broadcaster RAI is being investigated by a parliamentary security committee for alleged “disinformation”, amid complaints over the frequent presence of Russian guests on talks shows.

Commercial giant Mediaset is also in hot water after airing an interview with Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in which highly polemical claims went unchallenged.

It defended the interview, saying good journalism meant listening to “even the most controversial and divisive” opinions.

“RAI is a reflection of the political landscape, with its many pro-Russian parties. And Mediaset… well, Berlusconi is an old pal of Putin’s, so what do you expect?” Galietti said.

He also points to a decades-long culture in Italy of allowing conspiracy theories — particularly on the interference of US spies in Italian politics — to circulate in the media unchallenged.

“You end up with a situation where Russia Today (RT) is considered as authoritative as the BBC,” he said.

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