Silvio Berlusconi: Italy will live up to its leading role

From a speech by the Italian Prime Minister in Strasbourg to launch his country's presidency of the European Union
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As one of the founding countries, Italy has a long experience of remaining true to the spirit and the letter of the EU's treaties, which, in just a few decades, have enabled us peacefully to develop one of the most remarkable political and institutional experiments that history has seen. Italy is therefore keenly aware, morally and intellectually, of the responsibility and honour of presiding over the European Union.

With the accession of fully fledged new member states and the attendant redefining of our identity, the experience of the euro and significant changes on the international stage, it is time to recognise the value of the art of mediation.

Europe, as we know it, as built by its governing classes, by civil society, by entrepreneurs, by work and by ideas, but above all by its citizens, is the product of enormous determination and brilliant intuition, which has given a spirit and language to shared values and feelings. These have brought together and revitalised the separate strands of national history, traditions and culture.

Sustaining the life of our institutions, which have always been driven by the grand ambition to purge Europe of conflict and enmity, has been a virtually infinite process of mediation and gradual adjustment of the rules of our coexistence.

The Europe of today is no longer the airy kite, capable of playing the wind of history, that it was at the time of the Treaty of Rome. Our union has become much stouter, weighed down with responsibilities and duties towards its partners and the rest of the world. My hope is that during the Italian presidency, we shall succeed in restoring to our institutional giant something of its lightness and original energy.