Emma Bonino: Italian campaign ‘totally undemocratic’

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There is no rule of law in Italy under Berlusconi, former European commissioner and current vice-president of the Italian Senate Emma Bonino told EURACTIV from Rome in a telephone interview yesterday (3 June).

Emma Bonino is an MEP candidate for the radical grouping ‘Lista Emma Bonino’. 

To read a shortened version of this interview, please click here.

I heard you are on hunger strike in Rome, a move covered by public television channel RAI. Please explain your protest. 

The question is that we think that this electoral campaign in Italy is totally undemocratic. Because the basic rule of any kind of democracy says that citizens should know in order to make choices. But here, this principle is simply inexistent. 

Not only there is no debate on Europe, but if you ask people on the street ‘What are you voting for?’, I think very few would answer – we vote for the European Parliament. And if you ask them, ‘What are the parties that are campaigning, and for what projects of Europe?’, I think the answer would be totally blank. 

This is some sort of caricature of an electoral campaign, and particularly of a democratic electoral campaign, and in fact, we got, two weeks ago, deliberation by the authority, the organism, which is supposed to control the state TV, and this authority said that the right to know in order to choose is simply non-existent. 

And the authority ordered some sort of re-equilibrium of the political debate. But nothing happened. So, four days ahead of the elections, we decided to move to non-violent actions, we are on hunger strike, occupying RAI and waiting for an answer. The authority is meeting again and we wait for the result. 

On a personal basis, you are a candidate of the ‘Lista Bonino’. Is this correct? 

Yes. 

And as such you have not been given access to the media? 

Not only me, many others too, because the only one who has total access is Prime Minister [Silvio] Berlusconi. And in spite of the authority’s ruling, RAI is simply not complying. This is another episode of total lack of respect of the rule of law, which is a typical feature of my country. It’s not just for the media and information, but the justice system, the immigration system – the real problem is that there is no rule of law in my country. 

But Mr. Berlusconi, who is the only head of government running in the European elections, will probably emerge victorious and claim that he is the most popular European? 

Well, this is what you can expect, when the prime minister and the majority totally control the private and public television system, which is another Italian extravaganza. That is the question. And on the other hand, the opposition normally only tries to have a piece of the cake, instead of challenging the system. And here we are. We have the law on our side, but no-one implementing it. Let’s see if non-violence will move something. 

The citizens of Eastern Europe were deprived of information during the Cold War, but at least Radio Free Europe was emitting from Munich. Does Italy need a Radio Free Europe? 

(She laughs.) Well, the political context is different, but definitely the question of proper information and of having a political debate is definitely an issue in my country. 

But Berlusconi will not rule for ever. Isn’t there hope after him? 

The problem is that the opposition is a shambles actually, and the real point is to try to prepare for the future. 

Do you expect to be elected? 

This I don’t know. It appeared that only three per cent of the Italians knew that there was my list, for instance. Then you can imagine how the vote could be. 

Well, at least Italians abroad might be better informed and vote for you? 

(She laughs.) Thank you very much! 

You were a European commissioner, and a very popular one. How do you see the EU today? 

One point on the immediate scene is whether the famous Lisbon Treaty will finally be ratified. Not because I think much of this treaty, but because if it is ratified, we can turn the page and start again to look into politics, and see what can be the future of Europe. 

In the meantime, I am very much afraid of the fact that even the actual assets of Europe, the single market for instance, are slowly being eroded, day by day. I see a quite strong return to nationalism, in the financial sector for instance, or the automotive sector. So not only are we not looking forward, but I’m afraid we are going backward to nationalism and protectionism. 

Don’t you think the EU is too discreet with Italy? There was a controversy over the treatment of Roma, and Brussels apparently kept silent and did not interfere. 

Well, I think the Commission has been very timid on many issues recently. And this is one of the problems in Europe at large, that we have seen a Commission very timid and shy on many issues, beginning with the Roma one. 

But Mr. Barroso needs the support of Mr. Berlusconi? 

That is one of the reasons for this shyness. 

If you are returned to EU politics, what would you like to do? 

Well, I’m a member of the Council of Foreign Relations, a think-tank, and we try to think European. And I think that really the issue is the day-by-day work, which should be improved. I think we need to achieve a common foreign and security policy, and I think I would like to deal with that. 

You will not put your life at risk with this hunger strike, will you? 

Well, I’m sort of a cautious person. And non-violent means not putting life at risk. What I’m trying to do is simply, well, following Gandhi’s example, in not being complicit in the state of the situation. 

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