EU needs strong, prosperous Italy: EC President-elect (Lead)

Rome, Aug 2 (IANS/AKI) The European Union needs "a strong and prosperous" Italy to enact effective policies on key issues like climate change, migration and demographic change, European Commission President-elect Ursula von der Leyen said on Friday.

"My primary goals is to overcome north-south and east-west divisions as well as those between small and large countries.

"A united Europe needs a strong and prosperous Italy and there is certainly much to be done," she told reporters during a visit here to meet Premier Giuseppe Conte.

The EU is Europe's greatest achievement "but needs investment, time and energy," she stated.

"We need to offer effective answers to the challenges posted by climate change, migration, digitalisation and demographic change," she said.

Von der Leyen said she was in Rome "to listen but also to ask questions and seek support from Italy" - an EU founder member and "the cradle of Europe".

After the talks, von der Leyen said she had a "great exchange" with Conte.

"Great exchange with Giuseppe Conte, prime minister of Italy, about competitiveness, migration, economic growth, innovation and jobs, especially for regions where support is required to catch up," von der Leyen tweeted.

"Europe needs Italy and the spirit of Alcide De Gasperi!" she added, referencing the Italian statesman who founded the centre-right Christian Democracy party and led eight successive coalition governments between 1945 and 1953.

Von der Leyen, a centre-right German politician, is touring Europe's capitals for consultations on the next EU executive's programme and to appoint her team before she takes over from outgoing Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker in November.

Conte said ahead of his talks on Friday with von der Leyen that Italy wants a "high-profile" European Commissioner portfolio.

Von der Leyen is said to have asked EU governments for the names of a man and a woman as she wants to assign half the commissioner jobs to each sex.

A female candidate with an economic background is believed to be Italy's best hope of getting the portfolio it wants (trade or industry), sources told AKI earlier this week.

On his side, Conte said that he had "fruitful" and wide-ranging talks with von der Leyen.

"A fruitful first meeting with the President-elect von der Leyen. Growth, jobs, Italy's south, the environment and migration: topics on which to bring Europe closer to its citizens," he tweeted.

Speaking to reporters with von der Leyen before their talks, Conte said the meeting would focus on Italy's pick for "a high-profile" European Commissioner. He also said the government wanted to cooperate with the bloc, reform European institutions, improve EU transparency and governance and enhance the role of the European Parliament.

--IANS/AKI

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