This interview took place nine years ago in February 2006, just before Napolitano was elected President of the Italian Republic and carried on an exceptional mandate of nine years instead of seven. Now he has resigned after an outstanding performance as President, and gone back to his job of Life Senator. I wish him all the best and I want to express my gratitude for what he did as arbiter of Italian politics in such a troublesome period. I wish him well, and also to his wife Signora Clio in their new life.

Quartiere Monti riabbraccia Napolitano, brindisi in piazza

Giorgio Napolitano, what do you think about your new role as Senator for life?

For me it’s something that has come about very late. I spent thirty-eight years in the Chamber of Deputies, and I always frequented the Senate from outside, except when I was president of the Chamber of Deputies and Spadolini was President of the Senate, and when I was Interior Minister. As a novice, I had an old image of the Senate. I thought it was a place of more filtered debate, however, I found that the climate here is also heated and this makes debate more difficult.

What does it mean to be a Senator for life?

I am have no restrictions in terms of representation, neither by a constituency nor by a party. I am free to make my own determinations. I feel a responsibility to make decisions in the interest of the institutions.

You are still on the national council of the DS (Democrats of the Left).

I haven’t played any kind of active role for many years. I have the pleasure of being far removed from the management of the electoral register. Of course I’m close to the Ulivo (Olive Tree) coalition and the centre left, but I’m also used to being a guarantee.

What do you do during the electoral campaigns?

I talk about this in my autobiography “From the Italian Communist Party to European Socialism. A Political Autobiography.” Even before becoming Senator for life – if for no other reason than my age – I preferred to offer reflections as opposed to active involvement in political debates.

What do you think about the left today?

It is strongly influenced by an electoral system that has been perversely twisted by this latest law. I have always defended the Mattarella Law [which replaced the previous system of proportional representation in elections to the Senate and which was itself replaced in 2005 with a radically different system], also because as president of the Chamber of Deputies, I helped enact it. I think that a return to the proportional system could have been implemented following the German model. But with a necessary obligation to form coalitions on one hand, and the introduction of a majority premium on the other hand, what happens is that one side or the other is pushed to desperately seek a marginal portion of votes. This leads to very heterogeneous coalitions, and this has a negative effect on the clear nature of political functions and the transparency of debate. Everyone needs that one per cent more that can be found on the political market.

Was politics better when you were young?

Yes, because even with fixed ideologies, rigidity, and fallacies, there were also great motivations for political commitment. Whether one was Catholic, liberal, republican, socialist, or communist, there was an overall sense of the mission in terms of doing politics, and a much greater sense of the state.


You’ve been in politics for your whole life…

I was supposed to have worked as a solicitor with my father in Naples. But I took this path.

Is being a politician a profession?

Yes. Working in an organisation requires professionalism.

What kind of professionalism?

To really roll up your shirtsleeves and get involved in the problems that are at the centre of legislative activity. I, along with many colleagues, began working in a parliamentary commission. We learned how to recognise and study problems. Politics is about seeking solutions.

Was it painful for you to see communism end?

I went through a crisis before that, but what hurt me was seeing the decline of a movement and of that hope that meant so much for thousands of workers and common people.

And now what path will the left take?

In Italy it can’t be that of European social democracy, which we tend to think of as done for or outdated, but that in many countries is a governmental force that is an alternative to conservative forces. This aspect of social democracy is weak in Italy. There’s no socialist democratic party represented, which is what the DS should be, that gets more than thirty per cent of votes like in the United Kingdom, Sweden, and Spain. But in Italy, there are resources found in other aspects that are true forces of the left, if reformist, which can be found in the Margherita party.

What about Bertinotti?

The way in which he refers to communism is anachronistic. More than having communist roots, his party is on the radical left with a whole host of radical ideas that can be found elsewhere in Europe.

As the dominant party, why doesn’t the DS put up a leader for the government?

It believes that the meeting place between a left that comes out of the communist party and a formation that has representatives from Catholic tradition and the liberal democratic tradition is best represented by someone like Prodi. But in the future we need to see if the DS and Margherita will find themselves as one party. Now that party needs to choose a leader that is better, regardless of his background. And this isn’t easy. I am still very affected by my experience in the Prodi government. It was a meeting of different histories. Prodi, Ciampi, Andreatta, and I all came from different experiences, but we were in perfect harmony.

What kind of life do you lead?

I spend a lot of time in the Senate. I participate in more cultural initiatives than political ones. I went to a convention in Florence on studies of Piero Calamandrei. On 22 February, Casini and I will inaugurate the celebrations for the sixtieth anniversary of the Constituent Assembly.


What about your personal life?

I am very close to my wife. I have two children. The first has given me two grandchildren. The second teaches law. I spend a lot of time with them, and I don’t frequent many others.

What kind of relationship did you have with Togliatti?

A relationship of political collaboration and personal acquaintance. But he was a distance man who didn’t open himself up much.

What do you think about UNIPOL?

I don’t agree. It’s not so much a moral question for me as a political one. A great concentration of a few people at the top and less room for debate. [UNIPOL is a banking and insurance group in Italy. There was  a failed takeover bid in 2005 that ultimately led to major restructuring.]



Biography: President Emeritus Giorgio Napolitano

Interview with Eric Hobsbawm