Europe is my battle.
Having returned from Kosovo, Emma Bonino is in her office in Rome in the Radical Party headquarters. It is September, 1998.
Did you not go on holiday?
I spent the first week of August in a little hole – a very charming little hole that my brother has in Sardinia.
Do you still have strong ties to Bra, the city where you were born?
More than anything, I’m linked by a telephone line. I go there for Christmas and for my birthday. But in our house, birthdays are a bit different because we come up with the date based on our commitments. Anyway, as my mother says, it is just us. My mother and I were born on the same day (between 8 and 9 March) thirty years apart. The rest – siblings, sisters-in-law, brothers-in-law, nieces, and nephews – were almost all born in March and April. So we do one big party for everyone on varying dates.
Are you married?
They are all already married. I think that’s enough!
How many years did you live in Bra?
Until I was eighteen, and then I went to Milan, and I studied languages at Bocconi University.
Were you already thinking about politics then?
No. It started in 1974 when I encountered the radicals during an abortion campaign.
What about your encounter with Pannella?
That was in January 1975, and after that, we’ve never left one another politically.
Do you occasionally fight?
Sometimes it happens, and each of us has our way of fighting. Marco is more outspoken. He yells, and I almost always stay quiet.
How is your experience as a commissioner in Brussels?
This is one of Marco’s many miracles with regards to my life. When he got this from Berlusconi, I wasn’t happy. It seemed like too much of a bureaucratic role. Then I found out that the ideas that I supported on the street and as a militant can be better pursued on a transnational level. Starting with the Commission itself. Perhaps because I was given “crumbs” like humanitarian aid and consumer policy.
How do you get on with Mario Monti?
We have a good relationship and collaborate. We are different, and so we decided right away to be complementary and not conflictual.
Can a political Europe exist?
There’s no choice. It’s a necessity. Of course there is some resistance.
A mistaken sense of sovereignty. As my British colleague Sir Leon Brittan says “Sovereignty in the 2000s for Europe is an extension of sovereignty and not a decrease of national sovereignty. Provided we are given democratic institutions, we have power.”
How are things for you in Italy?
Things are going well with my radical friends, though I’m struggling with a political situation that seems to have launched a new particracy.
What do you think about Prodi?
He’s understood the importance of the single currency, and that’s good. Otherwise, the country is not making any strides forward, and that isn’t good.
So are you mourning Berlusconi?
In 1994, he offered hope, but that hope was betrayed. I regret that the results of the referendum weren’t applied. There’s no Anglo-Saxon style bipartisanism like we wanted.
Did you believe in the bicameral commission on institutional reform?
No. It’s misleading because this party system can be reformed by the parties themselves.
Are you an impassioned type?
I’m reactive. The third time someone steps on my foot, I react. But I’m not aggressive.
What do you talk about with your mother?
If I go home, I adapt to their rules. If they come to visit me wherever I am, they adapt to mine. My mother follows politics for sentimental reasons, and I show interest in her garden. At this point, I know everything about aubergines and peppers.
And when you sleep outside or fast, does your mother still get worried?
Not anymore. But I think that even if I am fifty years old, I’m still a little girl.
What is your private life like?
Normal. I had two foster daughters, and I think I satisfied my maternal instincts that way.
Have you had great loves?
Very few. There are some and have been some. All in all, normal.
Do you like to travel?
Yes. I am very curious about discovering new places.
Has Brussels become your city?
No. The Commission is where I work. For me, work is a passion, and the place is secondary.
What do you do for fun?
It doesn’t happen a lot, but I like to sail, go diving, read, and cook for friends. Occasionally I go to the cinema as well.
What is the situation with the radicals like today?
The Italian ones are having major difficulties. It is ever more difficult to be liberal when everyone pays lip service to having been converted over to the market. The reality is very different. In Europe, the situation is very difficult as well.
What bothers you the most?
Disloyalty and hypocrisy, in that order.
Do you get on with Berlusconi?
We never see one another. I haven’t heard from him since. I know that in certain dramatic moments for us, he acts for us, and I am grateful for this.
Are you on the left or the right?
I am a left-wing liberal like the Rossis or the Rossellis. People like me have never been liked in this country. Not before and not now.
So has the battle been lost?
No. It continues on.
You seem happy.
Really? That’s strange. I am not at all…
What is bothering you?
My trip to Kosovo and the lack of an international European policy.
What about Dini’s foreign policy?
If every European country is fooling itself into believing it has its own foreign policy that is up to the challenges of the 2000s, it is mistaken.
You are never fooled?
Always. After Bosnia I thought Europe understood it needed to have a common policy.
But in Albania didn’t something like this happen?
Not via Europe. The Security Council gave its authorisation and, fortunately, Italy took the situation in hand.
After Brussels would you like to return to Bra?
No. I left at age eighteen. I want to go wherever I need to go to continue doing the things I believe in and that I’ve always believed in.
But do you feel Piedmontese?
In a certain sense, yes. My family allows me to be transnational and not feel stateless.
Do you still find time to be vain?
I don’t now why, but I don’t think I ever have been. And it amazes me when they say I am. I am not vain at all. I’m sensitive.
Is political life always a passion of yours?
6 September 1998.