STRASBOURG, March 15 (Xinhua) -- Italian Prime Minsiter Paolo Gentiloni, addressing the European Parliament on Wednesday, categorically rejected the idea of a divided Europe and urged cooperation in the face of challenges threatening the European Union (EU).
"We cannot have a first-class and a second-class Europe, a Europe of the small countries and a Europe of the big countries, a Europe of the East and a Europe of the West," declared Gentiloni in his first address to the European Parliament as the Prime Minister of Italy.
Speaking as part of a debate on the future of Europe following last week's March European Council meeting, and 10 days before the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome, Gentiloni responded to recent concerns about a "multi-speed" Europe, with some countries seeking deeper integration, while others follow a different timeline.
Published earlier this month as part of a European Commission White Paper on five possible scenarios for the future of the EU, the "multi-speed" Europe has stoked fears of a new division between Eastern and Western members of the bloc.
While acknowledging that enhanced cooperation was possible within the frameworks of existing treaties, and that member states retained degrees of choice about how to participate, Gentiloni warned against inaction.
"Europe cannot stand still. It has a duty vis a vis its own citizens to provide solutions to the challenges and problems that face us," the Italian PM insisted.
"It's only if we have more democratic legitimacy that we will be able to provide a response to the difficulties facing the European Union," Gentiloni said, asking Members of European Parliament (MEPs) not to underestimate the difficulties facing the continent.
The economic situation stood first on the Italian PM's list of priorities, with growth, investment and jobs under pressure. "If we don't emerge from the crisis, if we don't bring down levels of unemployment, youth unemployment in particular, which exist within our Union, in certain member states in particular, we can have no trust in the future of the Union," he argued.
On migration concerns, Gentiloni warned that leaving "frontline" countries alone would undermine confidence in the EU. Bowing to nationalism as well, he added, would have the same effect.
For the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, which launched the European Economic Community that preceded the European Union, the Italian PM saw the occasion to celebrate the bloc's achievements.
"Peace, freedom, levels of social protection which, despite all of the difficulties, have been achieved, the single market - that's a success story that's defined the European Union as a calm super power - and finally the work that we have done on the cultural front, on our values, on sharing our common way of life," Gentiloni said.
"Recalling these achievements helps us to think about the future," he asserted, while sharing the Italian government's will to relaunch the European Union in the upcoming "Rome Declaration.".