November 19, 2017

Quiet radicals

By now ecologists have grown accustomed to established politicians stealing their clothes and turning them into rags—be it President Giscard sporting an oak leaf as his electoral symbol whilst commissioning yet more nuclear power stations along the Rhine, or the Prime Minister of Japan describing Narita as an ‘environmental airport’. Rare indeed is the party that adopts the ecological message lock, stock and barrel—without consideration for quick electoral gains.

The Italian Radical Party is an exception to that general rule. A well-established party—with four members in the Italian parliament—its conversion to the ecological cause has been a gradual one, so much so that many of its two thousand members may not yet realise just how far the party has gone over to the Greens.

Although small, the party exerts considerable influence in the often confused world of Italian coalition politics. In part the Radicals’ strength lies in their refusal to partake in the increasingly sterile and irrelevant arguments that separate the Left and the Right, from both of which, says Emma Bonino, one of the party’s leading figures, the Radicals are increasingly isolated.

Instead the party is concerned with the more serious issues of political decentralisation, federalism, and the preservation of cultural diversity. Significantly the party has been extremely active in defending the rights of such groups as the Sardinians and the inhabitants of the Val di Fassa in the Trentino to preserve their customs and teach their respective languages in local schools.

The party has also been concerned with civil liberties, including women’s rights, and it has fought hard to obtain legislation to permit divorce and abortion. Another of its concerns is ‘La Caccia’, the large-scale massacre of song-birds that takes place in Italy every year.

More recently, the Radicals have taken up the nuclear issue. Emma Bonino was a member of the Parliamentary Commission on Nuclear Power. Totally unimpressed by the arguments used the pro-nuclear experts who testified at the hearings, she became determined that the Radical Party should throw its weight behind the anti-nuclear lobby.

Decentralisation, cultural diversity, federalism, civil liberties, birth control, preservation of wildlife and a passionate opposition to the development of nuclear power—these are some of the main ingredients of any ecological policy, and it was inevitable that, sooner or later, a party with such concerns would come into contact with the Green Movement in the rest of Europe. Its first contact was in July 1977 when Marco Panella, the Party’s leader, met Brice Lalonde, one of France’s best known eco-politicians. The following year Panella attended a meeting of Ecoropa, the European Group for Ecological Action, in Geneva. Since then both Emma Bonino and Marco Panella have joined Ecoropa and regularly attend its meetings. They have also established a branch of Friends of the Earth in Italy.

Particularly interesting is the Radical Party’s concern with direct government. The Italian constitution makes possible three different means whereby ordinary citizens can influence legislation directly. The first is the ‘popular initiative’, whereby parliament must debate a specific issue if fifty thousand people sign a petition asking it to do so. The second is the regional referendum, the procedure for which varies from region to region, but in general about thirty thousand signatures, obtained within a three month period, are sufficient to force the Regional Parliament to organise a referendum on a specific issue.

Finally, there is the national referendum which must be organised at the request of five hundred thousand citizens, whose signatures must also be obtained within a three month period.

The Radical Party makes full use of the three very valuable tools. This year, due to the party’s energy and initiative, no fewer than eight referenda are in the offing, including one on ‘La Caccia’ and another on nuclear power. Emma Bonino is quite confident that the Italian people will vote ‘ecologically’ on both these issues.

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