To be checked against delivery
President, thank you for the invitation to Congress and for the invitation to Congress and for the opportunity to convey the greetings of the European Trade Union Confederation to an affiliate whose heart beats to a true European rhythm; and always displays affection and adherence to the spirit of Europe.
That - for the General Secretary of the ETUC - for my illustrious predecessor, Emilio Gabaglio, who I am delighted to see here at the congress of his own union, as well as for me - that pro European spirit is an important source of strength and encouragement.
And Europe needs the CISL spirit and I add the spirit shown too by CGIL and UIL. The three unions, whatever domestic strains there are in the relationship, are sensitive to each other and almost invariably act together in Europe.
And we need unity and a true European spirit in Europe - desperately - at the moment. Instead we have three crises: The first an economic crisis with 20 million unemployed in the EU. This is a terrible stain and the only recipe that our leaders seem to have is to weaken workers’ rights and entitlements.
The second is a constitutional crisis as the constitutional treaty has been rejected by the peoples of France and the Netherlands, and other countries, led by the United Kingdom, some say realistically, others opportunistically, have shelved their own referendums. Keeping the constitutional treaty alive in these circumstances, despite 11 countries having ratified it, is now difficult - not impossible but difficult.
If these two crisis were not enough, we now have a budgetary crisis with an unseemly row between our leaders, and especially the French and UK Governments. That must be resolved quickly.
In these circumstances, all European institutions, including the ETUC, can expect criticism borne out of frustration.
I know, for example, that many of you want a stronger ETUC able to enforce agreed policies on affiliates. You could accept that but no federation north of perhaps Belgium could. My old federation the TUC could not without many unions leaving, and others in the north and east are in the same situation.
Second, there is very understandable frustration with the employers obvious disinterest in advancing social Europe. I share that frustration. But I would say that the only good thing to come out of the French referendum is that many of the French people vote ‘no’ because of this weakness. Social Europe now is back on the agenda with Tony Blair, even Tony Blair, arguing for a social model in a modern form capable of helping tackle unemployment. An informal European Council will meet in October to discuss how to address this agenda. We will make sure that our voice is heard loud and clear in the debate.
By the way Emilio, I and other ETUC officers were active in putting the ‘yes’ vote case in the constitution referendum. I was quoted by President Chirac in each of his national television broadcasts. I wish the results had been more positive but we did not fail to present the ETUC case.
So now we have an opportunity. After a top level summer school last weekend at your lovely college in Florence, we have resolved to lead the way in plotting a new course for Europe, a course of making the arguments for Europe to those whose hearts do not rhyme with the European beat, to those who do not share the Italian European spirit . We are going to take on the Eurosceptics and develop a political manifesto for Europe with a commitment to economic growth and to a new, vibrant, social model.
If the Governments are not up to it, we must fill the gap and make the pro-European case anew.
We won’t find the solutions in changing our rule book, certainly in ways that some of our affiliates can never and will never accept. That course would add another crisis to those which afflict Europe at the moment.
No, the answer lies in you continuing to lend your creativity, imagination and true European spirit - the key characteristics of Italian trade unionists - to the ETUC to seize the moment, lead the fight back and put trade unionism back on track.
Last weekend, when we met in Florence, all of us from all over Europe, were conscious that we met in the city of the Renaissance, not just of Italy, but of all Europe.
Let us now dedicate ourselves, together, to build a trade union renaissance as part of a wide European renaissance.
Help me to do that.
Long live the CES and CISL.
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