Matteo Renzi to Le Figaro: Betting on Europe and education

Frédéric Picard and Yohan Blavignat, le Figaro, January 22, 2020.

On the eve of a crucial election in Emilia-Romagna and while Italy doubles its efforts to counter Turkey's influence in the Libyan crisis, Matteo Renzi, the center-left Prime Minister of Italy from February 2014 to December 2016, ally of Giuseppe Conte’s government, gives us his vision of the challenges facing his country, the European Union, French politics and even the fight against global warming.  

Will the regional elections in Emilia-Romagna, on the 26th of January, decide the future of Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte?
Matteo RENZI. - I don't think there will be changes in government after these elections. And in any case, that's what I hope. I think they will only decide the future of Emilia-Romagna. After resigning from the Democratic Party last September, you launched a new party, Italia Viva.

With 5% in the polls, do you think you are a "wall against populism"?
Absolutely. We only have 5% in the polls, it is true, but our goal is to become, like La République en Marche - which also started with rather low poll ratings - one of the most important parties in Italy.

You support the government in an alliance with the 5 Star Movement, a party that you have called "far-right, dangerous for democracy and Europe". Why?
The only way to stop the League led by Matteo Salvini, who was planning to have new elections six months ago, was to form a government with the 5 Star Movement. This party has also decided to be more open to Europe and not question Italy's presence in the European Union anymore. Although I still think that the 5 Star Movement is populist, it has proven to be less irresponsible than Matteo Salvini's League.

What is your ambition for the coming months?
My ambition does not only concern myself, but my country. I continue to travel to give lessons, study new ideas, face new challenges. But my real ambition is the Italian awakening. To begin with, I want to push Italy to grow again by developing a new infrastructure plan. I am committed to building, with our allied movements, including La République en Marche, a new progressive policy for the European Renaissance.

Italy has historically been very involved in Libya. Are you concerned about Turkey's growing role in this conflict?
I am very concerned about Turkey's role in the Middle East, northern Africa and in particular in Libya. In my opinion, the ambitions of President Erdogan are not clear and we must explain to him that it is not possible to go back to a past that has been over for a century, that is to say, to the Ottoman Empire.

What position should the European Union take in this crisis?
Here Europe risks all its credibility. We must trace the outlines of tomorrow's Europe. I agree with Emmanuel Macron that Brussels should be asked to play a political role on an international scale. Otherwise, we risk becoming mere spectators of the most important conflicts on the planet.

The offensive of the Syrian regime in the Idleb region makes NGOs fear a new influx of refugees. What reactions should European countries have?
I would like to be very clear: it is not possible for countries like France and Germany to welcome migrants but then Eastern countries continue to receive money from Brussels without showing solidarity on migration issues. No solidarity, no money.

Do you think the European Union is in crisis in the face of the increase, election after election, of the nationalist vote?
I don't believe it. The nationalist vote must be considered for what it is. Marine Le Pen and Matteo Salvini, for example, today represent only 9% of the elected members of the European Parliament. On the other hand, there is an urgent need to give Europe a new hope. If we continue with a Europe that lives in the past, we risk having a populist and nationalist majority in the next elections.

In your opinion, does Emmanuel Macron represent a bulwark against populism?
Yes. Emmanuel Macron is today the real political leader in Europe. And the presidential elections in France scheduled for 2022 will be crucial. If Emmanuel Macron is re-elected, he will undoubtedly reaffirm himself as a European leader and therefore as a bulwark against populism. On the other hand, if he loses against Marine Le Pen, the nationalists will win across Europe.

France is facing an unprecedented social crisis. How do you judge the government's action?
There is no more difficult reform than the reform of pensions. We are fortunate to have a longer life expectancy, but it is not easy to have people understand that it is necessary to work two or three years longer. It is never easy to reform a country. I have experienced it with the reform of the labor market in Italy. For me who loves the Tour de France, reforms are like the Col du Tourmalet (the highest pass in the French Pyrenees): it is very difficult to go all the way, but whoever manages to do so will ensure victory in the future.

What do you think of global warming?
I am very worried when I see what is going on in Australia or in the Amazon. Although I am sensitive to the incredible mobilization of young people around the world, I don't think that solutions to global warming will only come from people. Large companies have an important role to play. We must demonstrate that the fight against global warming does not mean economic decline. We must change the model and have a new economic perspective on these questions.

André Malraux said that "the 21st century will be spiritual or it will not be". How do you see the next decades?
The message delivered by André Malraux is very interesting. I am a Catholic, therefore very sensitive to spirituality, but I believe that in Europe this century will either be cultural or will not be. Faced with the advent of the digital revolution, the risk is not from artificial intelligence but from natural stupidity. We must invest in culture, education, values.