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Archivio Emma Bonino commissario UE
The European - 23 marzo 1995
PAOLA BUONADONNA MEETS EMMA BONINO, THE COMMISSIONER BATTLING FOR OUR CONSUMER RIGHTS

THE EUROPEAN, 23.03.1995

"WITHOUT RULES, MARKET FORCES RISK CREATING A JUNGLE"

The popular image of the European commissioner is one of a self-important and inaccessible public figure fighting power battles from secluded and rather large offices. This prejudice is shattered once you meet Emma Bonino.

The first thing that the 47 year-old former hunger-striker for the italian proabortion campaign does when we meet in her office is to change her ankle boots into a pair of loafers, which "are a lot more confortable". You do not get much more informal than this.

If she is going through a rather frantic period -the fish "war" with Canada is far from over and she is just back from a harrowing trip in the refugee camps of Burundi and Rwanda -she does not show it.

But she does get annoyed at the suggestion that consumer policy, her third portfolio after fisheries and humanitarian aid, might be seen as the Cinderella of EU policy, for its lack of glamour or dramatic potential.

Bonino points out that not many people are even aware of the rights they already have.

"If people knew the 48 directives that are in existence and pressed for member states to apply them, there would already be an enormous stimulus to respect, for consumer rights".

"We have legislation on product safety standards and against flight overbooking, but it does not have repercussions for the manufacturers on the agencies unless the citizens start complaining and denouncing abuses, making it counterproductive for them to ignore the legislation".

This, for Bonino, is the key. She knows she faces strong opposition to her plans to extend the Commission's role in the jealously guarded field of public services.

Governments - in particular, she suspects, the British - will be furious at any suggestion of "interference" in what they regard as their national prerogative, and representatives of industrial interests, including some of her fellow commissioners, will, she expects, make every effort to water down her poposals. To protect consumer rights in such a wide field, while avoiding lengthy civil cases or bureaucratic nighmares, Bonino proposes "automatic clauses"to be inserted in future legislation in these fields.

They would mean that if a service is interrupted through negligence, for instance, the citizen would have an automatic redress. "If a train in more that three hours late I might have the right to be rembursed", she says.

"But if this claim means being stuck for another three hours, probably in the wrong queue, with dozens of fellow passengers, I'm not going to bother. the solution in this case coud be a coupon to use as part payment for the next train journey".

A study which will be published next month will give her an idea of the current state of legislation on public services in member states, pointing out the situations that need to be addressed - from the village post office threatened with closure for economic reasons, to the cost of making crossfontier telephone calls, which is still substantially higher than domestic calls regardless of the actual distances involved.

Bonino is not foolish enough to believe she can change the world on her own. If Europeans can only be made aware of what rights they have, and be encouraged to demand them, governments and industry will have to respond, she believes.

A first step in this direction has been taken with the launch of an on-line consumer guide to European Union legislation and directives during the recent G7 meeting on the information society.

Six thousand people keyed in with their computers during that weekend is now monitoring the number of users since then.

The guide will be available in all EU languages by the end of next month, and in few months users will be able to gain access through the guide to a printed text of specific EU directives and even national legislation.

Bonino is also about to send a letter to education ministers of the 15 member states asking for the printed version to be distributed and studied in secondary schools.

"School is the one place where we can gather the kids and push our message through on a way that we could not do their parents", she says.

"High school students are already consumers. They travel and need to be taught their rights, just as they need to know about geography and history".

Bonino reltshes the battle ahead, however much it may sound like tilting at windmills. She is not a woman to erave approval or seek appeasement, as her office walls testify. They are decoreted with old poster of the Italian Radical Party, in which she came of age politically.

They show a variety of curious faces with prominaent captions reading: "We are looking for Don Quixote", "Dreamers" and "Troublemakers".

Emma Bonino would not object to any of those terms being appelled to her.

 
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