Road to the European elections: interview with Emma Bonino, Spitzenkandidat for ALDE

Interview by Sara Bianchi and Francesco Chiappini 
Translation: Giada Deregibus

Within a few weeks, European citizens will vote to elect the next European Parliament. By voting for the various political groups, they will also have an additional power: they will determine who will be the next president of the European Commission. This is possible thanks to the Spitzenkandidaten mechanism, introduced by the 2014 European elections in order to increase democracy in the European Union.

We have already interviewed several European candidates for our “Road to the European Elections” project. Now, after our interview to Manfred Weber, it is time for another important candidate: ALDE’s Emma Bonino.

Ms. Bonino’s long-standing career starts in the 1970s. During decades of political battles, Emma Bonino has held pivotal institutional offices in Italy and in the European Union. Moreover, she is the only Italian politician being proposed for the presidency of the Commission.

Besides ALDE’s pro-European and liberal ideas, the Italian candidate fights for a less intergovernmental and more federal European Union.

ALDE has acknowledged you as a potential Spitzenkandidat. What values do you and your party +Europa share with ALDE?

We do share a lot of values: first of all Europeanism, but also the idea of a United States of Europe, thanks to Guy Verhofstadt’s proposal.  We want a different Europe from the one we already have, still paralyzed by the criss-crossing vetoes by the member states that are slowing down the progress of deeper integration. We want it to be stronger, more democratic and able to face the challenges that can only be overcome if we stay together.

Regarding populism, how do you and your party perceive this phenomenon and do you believe that it will also spread to Europe’s political left?

Populism – usually going hand in hand with nationalism – aims to delegitimize the building of a new Europe by contesting whomever is or has been in charge and their decisions. It is also characterized by a nostalgia of a past period which I personally believe is nothing to be wistful about. Today Europe has the most advanced level of social and health care and attention to the environment.

Just looking at how populists rule, for example in Italy, is enough for me to stay away from them and fight their ways.

Regarding the leftist parties – although I won’t consider the most extreme ones, as I believe that they have more in common with the right-wing parties than with us –, I wouldn’t say that we’re experiencing this phenomenon. I don’t think we will in the future, either, as long as these parties refrain from adopting Corbyn-like positions – arguing “The worse it gets, the more we will benefit from it”, if you know what I mean.

What do you reckon are going to be ALDE’s allies after the European elections? Is an alliance between the socialists and peoples parties possible? Even with Orbán‘s expulsion from the party?

I can’t predict anything about the post European elections. What I believe is certain is that parties like Macron’s République En Marche, with democratic and progressive values, are going to be the centre of the new European Parliament. For the first time, the parties which have being ruling until now – socialists and conservatives – are not going to reach the absolute majority. I don’t think an alliance between conservatives and nationalists is likely to happen; on the contrary, I believe an agreement between the pro-European parties has more chances of happening, finally giving Europe the jump start it needs.

What is your position regarding the problems the Union is facing right now? The migrants issue has become a challenge for all European countries. In Italy, you openly fought for “open ports” and the Ius Soli, but what do you believe are the strategies that can actually work in Europe? And what about Dublin III?

Unfortunately, it was also Italy’s fault if Dublin III did not happen: our government decided not to participate to the discussion. Italy has been left alone dealing with this huge issue for too long, that’s a fact. But if we close our own borders, other European countries will automatically do the same.

The truth is we need real common politics about migrations and European political asylum. Salvini’s attitude, as well as all the other politicians who think like him, is not helping our country and our cause.

A new law has been enacted in the European Parliament banning disposable plastic. What seems urgent now is to apply some effective changes in the production and consumerism systems in order for them to become more environmentally friendly. In fact, the 7th Environment Action Programme confirms that by 2050 we will be able to respect the set environmental limits.What environmental policies are you going to promote to guarantee a sustainable economic development in Europe?

First of all, I would like to clarify that we need to thank the brilliant Fréderique Ries (ALDE) for the ban of disposable plastic. It proves that we have an avant-garde program against climate change and that it’s impossible to imagine each country working on its own towards a betterment in this sense. In the next legislature we hope to contribute our ideas and proposals for a more sustainable Europe.

We are experiencing an economic slowdown both in Europe and the rest of the world. At the same time, Brexit and trade tensions represent two big challenges we all need to face. What reforms and political strategies do you reckon could be effective in order to deal with themes like Eurozone governance, trade policy?

We think we need to double the EU budget – it is about 1% of the EU’s GDP, now – in order to provide Europe with all the means to face global challenges. We should also complete the picture of European economic governance so that we can strengthen the internal European cohesion and integration links.

About the European Elections, we believe that two factors involved could be possibly dangerous: the potential sovereignist and populist rise and poor turnout.

Regarding the second point, what do you think are the reasons for this lack of enthusiasm for the EU political scene and how do you suggest we could change that?

I strongly believe that a whole other side of Italy that cares exists and needs a strong voice to be represented. A side that knows what’s at stake, has a clear idea of the European dream and sees the importance of a cohesive Europe. We need to protect and to promote that in order to encourage participation as best we can.

The next elections will be crucial and each one of us should play their role. As someone more relevant than me once said, taking responsibility for what happens does not only involve the opponents, but especially the “good ones” who stood still and did nothing.

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