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Archivio Emma Bonino commissario UE
The Indipendent - 29 marzo 1995

Andrew Marshall in Brussels profiles Emma Bonino, the EU commissioner whose task is to try to defuse the fishing crisis


It sounds an unlikely leap : from humanitarian aid in Rwanda to halibut off the Canadian coast. But for Emma Bonino, the pugnacious Italian whose brief in the new European Commission covers both fish and aid, it is all part of a day's work.

She flew in from an inspection of refugee camps in central Africa one day earlier this month and only hours later was giving a press conference on the fish conflict between Brussels and Ottawa.

Ms Bonino has made herself a figure of controversy: her highly charged attacks on Canada have antagonised some and she is clearly keen to keep herself in the spotlight.

But she has a knack for getting her message across and so far she has easily exceeded expectations in her conduct of the job.

Ms Bonino was the last Commissioner to be nominated by her government and initially landed up with consumer policy and humanitarian aid. She got the post of Fisheries Commissioner only after the Norwegians, who had been tentatively allocated the post for Thorvald Stoltenberg, their putative commissioner, had rejected EU membershim in a referendum. Most commissioners have mixed portfolios but few have to oversee quite the same range of issues.

One of the younger commissioners at 47, she has a background in radical politics and is especially proud of her work campaigning for abortion rights. A member of the Italian and European parliaments for the Radical party, she was chosen as a commissioner partly because of her independence from the main Italian political groups, after other candidates had been ruled out.

Initially her appointment was greeted with scepticism in Brussels, which is more used to hardedged former cabinet ministers than social activists.

Yet she has won very good reviews since taking up the post, showing an ability to pick up the issues quickly and to empathise with those affected by her policies, whether it is French fishermen or Rwandan refugees.

But her mettle will be tested by the confrontation between the EU and Canada.

Passions are running very high on both sides, and any solution that seems to leave the EU with a loss of face will enrage the Spanish and undercut Ms Bonino's position.

The contradiction between the tension in the north-west Atlantic and the refugee crisis in central Africa evidently did not escape her. "Maybe I was shocked coming back from such a situation", she said after returning from Rwanda. "It seems that rich countries have lost some values, some priorities".


Ministers will veto trade sanctions on Canada in dispute with Spain

By Helen Cranford in Brussels and Philip Johnston

BRITAIN last night threatened to veto any move by the European Union to impose sanctions against Canada in the escalating fishing dispute with Spain. As the risk grew of an armed confrontation off Newfoundland, with Spain authorising its warships to use "all means" to protect its trawlers, Britain was facing the dilemma of choosing between EU responsibilities and Commonwealth ties.

The fishing nets allegedly seized from the Spanish trawler Estai were put on display in New York yesterday by Mr Brian Tobin, Canada's Fisheries Minister.

He said that measurements of the mesh proved that they were being used to take undersize fish from the spawning grounds, further endangering stocks.

The dispute worsened after Mr Juan Garcia Vargas, Spain's Defence Minister, said that a second navy vessel, the Serviola, was heading for the Grand Banks with orders to "prevent a new seizure by all means", even "atthe risk of collision and a threat of boarding".

It followed the cutting of the nets by Canadian coastguards of a Spanish trawler fishing for turbot in international waters off Newfoundland on Sunday.

In London, the Foreign Office called for a negotiated settlemet, deploring the "megaphone diplomacy" exercised by both sides and urging that "all concerned should exercise the utmosto restraint".

With the government trying to chart a middle course, British diplomats in Brussels suggested that ministers would oppose any attempt to introduce trade sanctions against Canada.

Their opposition to punitive action followed demonstrations of support for the Canadians from MPs, the public and English fishermen, who are already furious at what they see as a Spanish invasion of British waters.

In the Commons, Mr William Waldegrave, Agriculture Minister, called on both sides to "cool" the rhetoric. He accused Mrs Emma Bonino, the EU fisheries commissioner, who described Canada's actions as "organised piracy", of using "intemperate and unwise" language.

She is widely accused of escalating the tension by accusing Canada of turning the waters off Newfoundland into the Wild West, where it was "at once lawmaker, sheriff and judge".

Mr Waldegrave told MPs : "We have a very great deal of sympathy with the Canadians. We and other nations know there are questions about he Spanish obedience to the rules.

"But cutting nets off trawlers is dangerous, and it's illegal. The Canadians are in danger of ruining a good case by that kind of action".

Sir Teddy Taylor, one of the tory euro-rebels, defended Canada, which, he said, had never deserted Britain in time of crisis.

"There is some disappointment and a great deal of anger in Cnada and in Britain that the Government has been presented as having little sympathy with the Canadians, who were in danger of having their fishing eradicated", he said.

Britain has divided loyalties and has been attempting to play the role of broker. Mr Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary, is expected to make renewed efforts to reach a settlement.

Spanish fishermen, outraged by the net-cutting incident, are pressing their government to take a tougher line. They are demanding a ban on Canadian fish imports, the seizure of Canadian assets in Spain and Canada's expulsion from the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organisation (NAFO).

The captain of the Spanish trawler described the cutting of the lines as highly dangerous, since the severed cables had whiplashed across the trawler, the Pescamaro 1. He said : "The fishermen on the bridge saved their lives by throwing themselves to the deck in time".

Mr Jacques Santer, President of the European Commission, has telephoned Mr Jean Chretien, Canada's Prime Minister, to warn him that any further clashes "will have consequences on the Union's relations with Canada beyond fishing".

Mr Norbert Schwaiger, an EU spokesman, said :"Sanctions have crossed everyone's mind, but we're looking for the political path."

A decision on possible responses will be taken tomorrow by EU ambassadors meeting in Brussels, by which time the commission will have drawh up a list of possible sanctions.

However, Britain would veto an attempt to impose economic sanctions. "Sanctions need unanimity and we would not agree," said a senior British official.

Germany, Denmark, Holland, Sweden and Finland also have doubts about the wisdom of wrecking relations with Canada.

Spain did not rule out severing diplomatic relations "if the situation worsens", said officials in Madrid.

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