Speech by King Willem-Alexander at the state banquet on the occasion of the state visit of President Sergio Mattarella of the Italian Republic, Royal Palace, Amsterdam
Un caloroso benvenuto a Amsterdam!
It’s a great pleasure and privilege to receive you and your daughter at the Royal Palace in our capital city. It’s been five years since my wife and I were your guests at Il Palazzo del Quirinale in Rome. What an unforgettable state visit it was! A visit that also took us to beautiful Sicily, to Palermo, your birthplace.
It seems only a short while ago. But so much has happened since then! Your country was hit particularly hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, which brought such grief and worry to millions of families worldwide. Russia’s aggression in Ukraine has also had a major impact on our entire continent. And this summer Italy was plagued by the worst drought in living memory.
Fortunately, we have also had some happy moments to celebrate together. Like Italy’s victory in the Eurovision Song Contest in Rotterdam.
Looking back, I can say that the events of the past few years have only brought our countries closer together.
We are close allies. We stand by each other in difficult times. As member states of the European Union, we will never abandon each other, whatever happens.
Our true strength emerges when we are put to the test. As free European nations, we are a powerful front against Russia’s brutal violence. And together we are protecting the people of Europe from the worst effects of hardship and crisis.
It’s impressive how Italy has demonstrated this. Following the struggles of the pandemic, your country quickly presented a solid recovery plan. A plan that has set important reforms in motion that are re-energising the economy and society.
Here in the Netherlands we are aware of our reputation. We realise that some see us as a country that thinks it knows better. But, fortunately, we’re also a country that’s capable of critical self-reflection and is ready to admire the achievements of others.
We see Italy’s importance in Europe and in the wider world, as a member of the G7, the G20 and NATO. And we respect the progress you’ve made, for example in tackling organised crime.
For both of us, this is a sensitive issue with a personal dimension. Your own brother was the victim of Mafia violence when he was governor of Sicily. Your country has been fighting organised crime for a very long time.
The Netherlands is eager to learn from you. So I’m pleased that you have offered your help, and that we’re now working together so closely.
Mr President, we’re proud to be one of founding nations of the European Union along with the Italian Republic. Your compatriot Alcide De Gasperi played a prominent role back then. He understood the importance of the long term in politics and called for ‘a renewed faith in the destiny of Europe’. He rightly said, ‘We have to capture the imagination of the youth of Europe.’
These words apply to you too. You embody the constancy of Italy’s democracy, governed by the rule of law, with its system of checks and balances. At the same time, as a vital 81-year-old, you are also a passionate advocate of young people. You put yourself in their shoes and ask, ‘What kind of Italy and what kind of Europe do they want to live in?’
It’s not surprising that your visit includes a stop in Maastricht, where you will present your vision of Europe.
Maastricht is a crossroads of European cultures. The city that – in 1992 – saw the signing of the treaty that redefined European integration. And a city where students from all over the world – including Italy – feel at home.
The issues that will be addressed during this state visit are all crucial for young people. Like the greening of our economies. Our response to climate change. Digital innovation. And peace and security in Europe and beyond.
And let’s not forget the power of culture. Dutch design is flourishing in Bella Italia and young artists and designers from both countries always manage to amaze us and each other.
Mr President, since the last time we met, we have learned some valuable lessons as Europeans. We’ve learned that we can be hit hard by events that are beyond our control, but that together we possess surprising strength.
We’ve learned where our weaknesses lie. But if we stick together, we are invincible, even in the midst of the fiercest storm.
We believe in the same values of freedom, equality and justice. It is our shared responsibility to uphold these values at all times. We are grateful for your tireless commitment to this task.
May the rule of law always be our ‘Stella Polare’, and compassion our compass!
In this spirit of friendship and solidarity, may I ask you all to raise a glass with me.
To your good health, Mr President.
To the common future of La Repubblica Italiana and the Kingdom of the Netherlands.