Franco Frattini made his remarks on the sidelines of an EU foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg, the Italian news agency ANSA said. He spoke the day after Interior Minister Roberto Maroni criticized the EU for failing to respond to Italy's refugee crisis.
Italy is one of the principal gateways to Europe for Africans trying to get in. The number of new arrivals has escalated with the wave of unrest that has swept across North Africa and the Middle East.
''Europe is and will be an extraordinary opportunity for us,'' Frattini said. ''Italy without Europe would not only be so small as to be insignificant, it would also be incapable of facing the great challenges in front of us."
Frattini said Maroni never actually said Italy should leave the EU.
''He expressed his profound disappointment in a moment of disillusion and anger that we can understand, although we have to stay calm," Frattini said.
Frattini said the EU needs to make some changes. For example, he said, if the goal of having a united foreign policy had been met, Italy would not have had to conduct its own negotiation with Tunisia on refugees.