Florence

Bonino calls on EU to look to founding fathers

'We must rediscover fundamental values' says foreign minister

Bonino calls on EU to look to founding fathers

(By Christopher Livesay) Florence, May 9 - Italian Foreign Minister Emma Bonino on Thursday called on Europe to draw inspiration from its founding fathers to fight the economic crisis and rediscover fundamental values. Bonino was speaking at a conference held in Florence on the state of the European Union. Referring to a crisis in "fundamental values", Bonino said there was growing intolerance, discrimination, support for xenophobic parties and a weakening of the rule of law "everywhere in Europe". "It is in our vital interest to react to this alarming trend," Bonino said forcefully while saying Europe had to "rediscover its mission". Bonino, an internationally respected ex-European commissioner, recalled the founding fathers of Europe who faced an "entire world full of prejudices and fear". She said they understood that it was "an illusion to try and ensure peace and security by constructing barriers and walls". The founding fathers "chose integration and rejected boundaries" and that is the route we should follow today, she said. President Giorgio Napolitano joined the debate with a written message that was read out at the conference held at Palazzo Vecchio, the site of Florence's town hall. He said he was convinced that Italy would "not miss giving its conviction and strong contribution to the issue of European unity according to the original federalist inspiration that characterised it". In his message Napolitano said there were "too many social and economic problems" in Europe today and the EU had "to respond to the new generations who were waiting". He said there had to be common policies to support economic recovery and employment. Former premier Mario Monti, whose technocratic government was recently replaced by a left-center coalition headed by Premier Enrico Letta, also attended the conference. The European Union, he said, is set to ease up on austerity and allow Italy to invest to stoke growth. "Much can be done to combine budget discipline and growth," he said, adding that Italy's likely exit from an excessive-deficit procedure would give it "significant room" to help get the economy out of its deepest recession in 20 years. Two ways he cited were long-awaited payments of government debts to businesses and "productive public investments". These two "windows" had been closed by the EU but Monti's recent emergency government had "convinced the EU with great effort to open them over the course of more than a year". Italian House Speaker Laura Boldrini spoke up at the occasion in defence of labor rights and young people struggling under the weight of austerity cuts and the euro crisis. "We must reinforce, not empty, the European social model with its emphasis on protecting, not undoing, those in need, and on safeguarding the rights of workers," Boldrini said. She went on to call for reforming labor laws that allow for the current glut of temporary job contracts available to the country's youth, who suffer from 38% unemployment according to the Italian statistics agency Istat. "We must respond to the effects of austerity measures with political change before it's too late," she said. "The south of Europe, my country Italy as well as Greece, Spain and Portugal, needs more welfare and not less in order to counter the effects of the crisis. "If we don't take these steps, the social fabric of Europe is at risk and our youth will be considered the lost generation".

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