Dr Charles Tannock

Member of the European Parliament for London

Italian Lettori

Delivered in Plenary 27th October 2000

By coincidence, this very afternoon I am off to Italy, a country that I love so much, to lecture about the benefits of a Mediterranean diet, which has been exported so successfully to the rest of the world, and therefore it saddens me all the more to make this speech criticising its government and its rules in this area.

However, some of my British constituents who wish to lecture and reside in Italy are not so fortunate as I am today. In 1989 foreign lecturers working there won a case before the ECJ requiring their contracts not to be limited to six years. After the Italian universities had responded by saying that the judgement did not specifically require them to offer open-ended contacts, a second judgement of the Court in 1993 spelt out clearly that the length of the contracts could not be fixed. The universities responded by downgrading the status of foreign lecturers to support staff and no longer members of the academic teaching staff.

These dismissed "lettori", as they are known, took their employers to the Italian Supreme Court, which ruled in their favour and demanded their immediate reinstatement. The universities ignored the rulings, denying them the rights associated with teaching staff, including the twice-yearly pay rises so generous in the academic system in Italy. In a Kafkaesque style the universities even went as far as to remove their names from the internal telephone books, the doors and the university websites.

This is quite unacceptable in a modern Europe. Some of you will be aware of my support for the right of the male descendants of the exiled Italian royal family to return to their homeland. They are subject to a medieval article in the constitution of Italy which prevents all male descendants of the family from entering Italian territory, in clear violation in my view of the Amsterdam Treaty. Shamefully, in this very House the left wing and Liberal groups have conspired to block the two princes' access to the Court of Justice although a ruling is expected shortly from the Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

Governments must understand that if they sign treaties then they must either abrogate them as sovereign states or abide by their terms in a rule of law. The Italian Government, which comprises left-wing parties who constantly extol the virtues of European laws, rights and treaties, must act soon on both these issues if its commitments to the values for which it claims to stand are not to generate widespread cynicism in other Member States about Italy's commitment to uphold European law.

So far the European Commission has proved unwilling to enforce the Treaties when the number of people affected are few. In the instance of my motion on the royal family this was even described by the Liberal rapporteur in this House on human rights as an exotic motion of no interest.

Well, I believe that these matters go to the very heart of the fundamental principles of the freedom associated with European law, particularly the freedom of movement, and no exceptions can be made to these principles. There must be non-discrimination for EU citizens wherever they come from and whenever they want to go to within the Union. These issues are vital to uphold European freedom and in my view there is no national issue of vital interest to the Italian State which is being threatened by either the royal family or the Italian foreign lecturers.