Address on the occasion of an audience by Dr. Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, President of the Italian Republic preceding the meeting of the Governing Council of the European Central Bank in Rome

Dr. Willem F. Duisenberg, President of the European Central Bank, Rome, 2 April 2003

On behalf of the European Central Bank (ECB) and the members of the Governing Council, I should like to thank His Excellency – Dottore Carlo Azeglio Ciampi – for his kindness and hospitality in receiving us today, on the eve of the Governing Council meeting in Rome, despite the geopolitical tensions we are currently facing. Moreover, I should like to thank Governor Dottore Antonio Fazio and the Banca d'Italia for organising this meeting of the Governing Council outside Frankfurt am Main.

The Governing Council has decided to meet, in principle, twice a year outside the ECB premises in Frankfurt in order to emphasise the federal character of the Eurosystem, which consists of the ECB and the national central banks of the Member States that have adopted the euro. The decentralised structure of the Eurosystem – with the ECB representing the hub of the system and the national central bank its spokes – has contributed to the acceptance of the euro as the single currency of more than 300 million citizens, since the national central banks are well able, in linguistic and cultural terms, to communicate to the general public. Contrary to public opinion about other European institutions, the Eurosystem is perceived as being relatively close to the public.

I am very pleased to chair tomorrow's meeting of the Governing Council here in Rome. The fact that the Governing Council is meeting in Rome is symbolic in many respects.

First, Rome is regarded as the cradle of European and Christian civilisation. The Roman Empire was the first attempt to create a unified Europe. Although this period in history greatly contributed to the development of the European continent, this experience also made clear that Europe cannot be unified by force, with some nations or peoples subjugated to others. Unfortunately, this was a lesson which Europe had to learn the hard way. It took us almost 2,000 years to realise that the continuous perils of war and oppression had to end. This has led to an alliance between the countries of Europe initiated by a number of great Europeans, among them Carlo Ciampi, who – to my mind – has also shown that central bankers can become visionary politicians; but then he was no ordinary central banker – he was already a visionary in his days as Governor of the Banca d'Italia. Carlo Ciampi and many others were convinced that Europe could only prosper in unity. For the first time in the history of Europe, nation states voluntarily decided to transfer part of their sovereignty to a 'higher' collective body, nowadays referred to as the European Union.

In this respect, Rome is also a symbolic place for the Governing Council to meet, as the first Treaty establishing the European Economic Community was concluded here – 45 years ago – and hence is known as the Treaty of Rome.

Finally, this meeting of the Governing Council takes place in one of the founding nations of the European Community, in a country which has always been a staunch supporter of European integration as a road towards peace and prosperity. Admittedly, when the Maastricht Treaty was concluded – in 1992 – the expectation was that only a small group of European countries would be in a position to adopt the euro. For some, this small group would not include Italy. Looking back, the convergence process that was triggered after the ratification of the Maastricht Treaty was very impressive, in particular in Italy, eventually paving the way for this country to be among the first to adopt the euro. This convergence process has also contributed greatly, both here and elsewhere in Europe, to macroeconomic stability and sound economic policies as enshrined in the Treaty, in particular in the Stability and Growth Pact. While many did not consider this to be possible, Italy has in fact become a member of the stability-oriented family of European nations. Also in this respect, it is a pleasure for the Governing Council to meet here.

We are living in a period in which history is made, almost every day. In two weeks' time, ten countries will sign the Accession Treaties, making it possible for them to become members of the European Union in the spring of next year. This enlargement of the Union to the east and south is another historical event, ending the rift that was created after the Second World War.

The benefits of this enlargement, both in political as well as economic terms, are clear. However, this does not make it less of a challenge, either for the ECB or the national central banks. From mid-April onwards, the national central banks of the Acceding Countries will attend – as observers – meetings of the ESCB Committees and meetings of the General Council. Enlargement involves a number of technical efforts by the ECB and the national central banks, in terms of adaptations to the infrastructure, but it also creates a new dimension to economic convergence and monetary stability in the European Union. I am, however, convinced that the Eurosystem will also master this challenge, as it has done before on occasions which demanded even more breathtaking efforts.

Ladies and gentlemen, I should now like to conclude. Again, my gratitude goes to His Excellency Carlo Ciampi and Governor Antonio Fazio. I am deeply convinced that this meeting of the Governing Council will contribute to the team spirit of the Eurosystem and hence will be one more step in the direction of a united Europe.

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