Speech by His Majesty King Willem-Alexander at the State Banquet hosted by President Sergio Mattarella, Palazzo del Quirinale, Rome

Mr President,

My wife and I would like to thank you for the warm welcome we’ve received here at the Palazzo del Quirinale. Your kind words mean a great deal to us: this is a country very close to our hearts. I inherited a love for Italy from my parents and grandparents, and we in turn are now passing it on to our daughters. Once you’ve discovered il Bel Paese, you can’t stay away.

But beauty is not Italy’s only strength. This is the country that gave us the Renaissance. The country that laid the basis for modern Europe. Aren’t we all indebted to the great innovator, Leonardo Da Vinci? The man who instilled in us the values of scientific inquiry, creativity and humanity. Today, five centuries on, we continue to be inspired by his ideals.

As Europeans, we can be proud of the diversity within our continent. Without the ties uniting North and South, joint progress would be impossible. As founding members of the European Union we’ve known that for 60 years, ever since the Treaty of Rome was signed.

Today we need each other more than ever. Because Europe today faces unprecedented challenges. The migration issue is not the concern of Italy alone, but of the Netherlands too, and of all our European partners. Together we have to find humane, sustainable solutions, and make an equal contribution. Specifically, we’re joining forces on rescue operations in the Mediterranean Sea. We’re tackling people smugglers. We’re working to prevent illegal migration, which comes at the expense of those genuinely fleeing violence and oppression. These efforts would not be possible without the cooperation of other countries, particularly in Africa. Your country is playing a crucial role in efforts to tackle this complex issue.

Italy deserves both our respect and our admiration for its response to the tragedy that continues to unfold off its coastline. A great many lives have been saved by Italian men and women. To them I would say: grazie mille!

Tomorrow we will be visiting Palermo – the city of your birth, Mr President. There I will express our gratitude in person.

This issue demands your full attention, yet there is much to be done elsewhere too. When Italy suffers an earthquake, the consequences can be disastrous, as we’ve seen several times in recent years. We grieve with you whenever Italian lives are lost and beautiful towns and villages – which many Dutch people know well – are damaged. We know how committed you are to preserving your cultural heritage and passing it on to future generations. And we understand how much care and attention that requires.

In the eyes of many Italians, the country’s socioeconomic framework also needs attention. The first reforms have been made, creating more opportunities for young people and fostering new growth and jobs. Italy is also determined to make a success of our single currency. Sticking to this path will reassure people, and restore confidence in our common future.

This country has so many resources to draw on. World-class researchers and skilled professionals. An unrivalled manufacturing industry and a food sector that enjoys global renown. You have wonderful athletes – even if it was a Dutchman who won the Giro d’Italia last month. You have fantastic creative designers. And an inventive spirit that can work wonders.

Where would we be without the radio, the telephone, newspapers, pizza and espresso? To name only five Italian inventions that make modern life possible – for northern Europeans too!

Not everyone realises just how closely linked our countries are. Italy’s market means more to the Netherlands than that of the BRIC countries combined. And this week, in various places, we’re exploring the scope for even closer economic cooperation.

Mr President, recently our two countries have shown the whole world how solution-oriented we are. Instead of continuing to compete for a seat on the UN Security Council, we opted for a shared term, this year and next. This sends a positive message at a time when smooth international ties seem less and less self-evident.

Within NATO, too, Italy and the Netherlands are firm allies. Three weeks ago I attended the 50th anniversary of Allied Joint Force Command Brunssum, where I was graciously received by General Salvatore Farina.

The Netherlands is proud to be Italy’s partner in building peace and security, combating crime and defending human rights, both close to home and further afield. I know how personally committed you are to these values and how tirelessly you have always worked to promote them. This makes you an example for many others who are striving for a future where human dignity can prevail.

May I now ask you all to raise your glasses.

To your good health, Mr President.

Alla Repubblica Italiana e al Regno dei Paesi Bassi: due grandi amici!