Nicholas Farrell finds Emma Bonino, EC fisheries chief and one-time hunger striker, ebullient but without a solution to the dispute
SUNDAY TELEGRAPH, 2-aprile 1995
SOMMARIO. Maligno articolo del giornalista inglese per il giornale inglese, che intervista Emma Bonino in merito alla disputa con il Canada sulla questione della pesca in Atlantico. E' interessante il modo come vengono presentate e commentate, senza parere, domande e risposte, in una cornice di tendenziose e sofisticate allusioni sulla sua carriera politica, gli scioperi della fame e il suo dubbio rispetto per la legge Evidentemente favorevole al Canadà e alla posizione in suo sostegno assunta dalla Gran Bretagna.
Emma Bonino, the tiny Italian leading the European Community charge against Canada in the bitter fishing dispute with Spain, is annoyed with John Major and would like a word. She cannot understand why the Prime Minister opposes EC sanctions against Canada. To her it is simple: Spain is right and Canada wrong. "Rules", she insists, "are rules".
Sitting on one of many leather sofas in her Brussels office she said: "If a UK fishing vessel was shot at on the high seas how would he want the Italians to react?"
The office April fool joke at the end of another vexed week in the fish section of the Commission was a news report that the Spanish Navy had seized the Royal Yacht Britannia off Gibraltar in retaliation for British perfidy. The man from the Spanish newspaper El Pais fell for it but Miss Bonino, the 47 years-old EC Fisheries Commissioner, did not. She is no fool.
But she has attracted severe criticism for her wild remarks about the Canadians. Among other things she has accused them of being pirates on international waters.
Many, particularly in Britain, fell that such remarks serve only to inflame a situation which, more than any other, has forced us to wonder where our loyalties lie. For exemple, Sir Leon Brittan, EC External Affairs Commissioner, although involved in the dispute, keeps a very low profile.
But last Friday, the day after Mr Major finally appeared to side with Canada, Miss Bonino was unrepentant in her first interview with a British newspaper. Did she regret her use of language? "No. Not at all". Should she have been perhaps a little more diplomatic? "Maybe. But it's not my style".
Indeed, it isn't. Born near Turin and a modern languages graduate of Milan's Bocconi University, Miss Bonino is part of the 1968 student revolution generation. She sprang to fame in 1975 when she had a very public abortion - then illegal in Italy. Determined to defeat the law she telephoned the police to let them know. She then spent three weeks in prison and went on hunger strike. The campaign - which included a march on Rome by 50.000 women - led to the legalisation of abortion in 1976. The Pope branded her a witch. Her political career had begun. She has been on many hunger strikes, usually about Third World famine.
Elected an MP with the influential Radical Party - to which the porn star La Cicciolina also belongs - she organised a referendum in 1978 that led to the banning of nuclear power in Italy.
Latterly, she has been an MP and Euro MP until put forward as a commissioner last November by the then Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi.
When The Cyclone, as she is called by the Italian press, took up her post last January along with a mainly Italian team, she was plunged straight in at the deep end.
But what does Miss Bonino, paid £140.000 a year, know about fish? Nothing apparently. Can she tell the difference between a cod and a hake? "No. But I have two people who can and books on fish in seven languages".
"Anyway, nobody has ever heard of this Ippoglosso - what's it called in English? - before now". Ippoglosso is Italian for the Greeland halibut - the fish at the centre of the dispute. But she adds: "I know about the sector. It is in crisis. There's over-capacity".
What is she going to do about that then? "The EC has a budget for structural changes and, on Thursday, I have a proposal to use part of these funds for early retirement of fishermen".
Since the seizure of the Spanish freezer trawler Estai in international waters off Newfoundland by the Canadian Navy and the alleged discovery of illegal nets, a secret hold, and illegal fish, British newspapers have exposed many illegal practices by Spain's fishing fleet.
In Britain many believe that even if the Canadians were technically wrong to seize the Estai outside their territorial waters the seizure was justified. The Spaniards, who have the third largest fishing fleet in the world, break all the rules and three cheers for Canada for trying to do something about it.
Hadn't the Estai, as we say in English, been caught bang to rights?
Miss Bonino repeated her stock line that there are no minimum sizes for Greenland halibut, only for the nets, and as for those nets, there is no proof that the ones dredged up by the Canadians belonged to the Estai.
She said:"According to our experts...the fish were normal. I don't want to talk about the hidden hold which dispareared. Our inspectors could not find it".
So is Brian Tobin, Canada's Fisheries Minister, a liar? "Semeone is lying".
But she did concede that Canada, in common with other members of the North Atlantic Fisheries Organisation, has the right to inspect fishing vessels outside territorial waters but only with two or three strong boarding parties, "not 20 firing guns".
So much for the dispute with Canada. Shouldn't she stop criticing Canada and get on with stopping Spain in EC waters? "The EC does not have the power of control. Control is with the member states' governements".
So who is going to stop Spain then? She replied: "Who is going to stop Britain? The only problem with Spain is it has been going around fishing everywhere and everyone is angry at them".
The EC has 22 fisheries inspectors. What are they for if not to police the situation?
"When they find an irregularity they call on the member state totake action".
Yet Miss Bonino has decided to get a new EC patrol vessel to police the Bay of Biscay tuna grounds, the scene of angry clashes between Spanish, French and English fishermen last August.
What really annoys this child of the Sixties is "violation of the rules". She, of course, has broken many in her time. But she explained: "That was civil disobedience so as to change the rules".
Isn't that what the Canadians are thinking? As for her next stunt in the fishing dispute, who knows? Could it be a really radical hunger strike?