The mayor of a Southern Italian town who restored the historic center thanks to European funds. The farmer who built a high-tech green house with financial contributions from Brussels, and now generates environmentally sustainable wealth. The student who -- after taking part in the Erasmus student exchange programme -- won an academic opportunity which he can now put to use around the world. The entrepreneur who says 'thank you' to Europe, since the simplification of judicial procedures now enables her to collect credit she is due in another country at a previously unthinkable speed.
As European elections draw near, this kind of story needs to be heard and circulated as anti-EU movements raise their voices hoping to cash in on discontent. What needs to be remembered -- against populist demagogy blaming European institutions for social distress -- is that Europe has already changed our lives for the better. And youngsters especially need to be reminded of this, given that they did not experience the evolution of the European project.
It's not as if we're happy with how things are today: the way the European Union handled the 2008 crisis deserved criticism that was both bitter and justified. Answers came late and were not enough. On the other hand, it's not fair to blame Europe for all of individual national governments' shortcomings and mistakes: lost chances, missed reforms, neglecting the weak, denying youngsters their opportunities. Let's ask ourselves whether more could have been done to improve the quality of spending on research, innovation and human capital.
But the solution can't be the one many self-servingly suggest: i.e. to get along without Europe. The sheer size of our problems means that we should all be working together; none of our countries can make it alone, none can face an increasingly aggressive global competition alone. What we need is more Europe, a true governance of the Union which will enable our continent to remain a global leader. We need Europe to fix past mistakes, daring to reinvent itself, and to be aware of the positive influence it has on the daily lives of 500 million citizens.
With the aim of highlighting proposals for change and goals which have been reached, the Italian House of Representatives, along with the Greek Parliament, has organised an international conference whose title is 'What Europe stands for' and which will take place on March 13 and 14 March in Rome. Delegations from the EU Parliament, the European Council, national Parliaments of member states and candidate countries will be welcomed jointly by Italy and Greece, two countries which are both due to hold the Presidency of the Council of the EU in 2014, and which both suffered dearly, though in different ways, during the financial-economic crisis. The decisions of the last few years -- which saw Europe too focused on the stability of the financial and credit system -- will be re-examined from a Mediterranean point of view. We now need to restart growth and employment policies: Europe will never be viewed positively by its citizens if its youth unemployment is at its highest, labour rights are eroded, and healthcare cuts in some countries lead to the return of diseases eradicated decades ago. What needs to be ever more clear is that Europe is the land where everyone's fundamental rights are respected: mounting social distress is often vented on minorities, immigrants and refugees, whilst member States appear ineffective in countering it.
We'll talk about all of this in Rome. We want to address the concerns of disillusioned citizens, thanks to the perspective of a Europe that is not solely concerned with balance sheets. If it can make it, regaining its original spirit and social vocation, Europe will once more present itself as an extraordinary project based on freedom and prosperity.