"We are all in the gutter but some of us are looking at five stars"
Roslyn Fuller interviews Eleonora Evi, MEP for Italy’s Five Star Movement [5SM] which has been depicted as racists and fascists who want to destroy Europe
Fuller: Eleonora, how did you come to be active in politics and why did you join the 5 Star Movement?
Evi: I joined in 2010. At the time we were polling at two per cent and had no elected representatives. I joined to support campaigns for public water, against nuclear energy, but also for cleaning out the parliament [of corruption]. At first my activities consisted of collecting signatures for those campaigns. It was after seeing a show by Beppo Grillo [a comedian and one of the movement’s founders] that I decided to stop sitting on my sofa and watching politics, but to do it myself, and within eight years I am here in the European Parliament with a platform that we created.
Fuller: Was it difficult as someone with no previous political experience to become an MEP?
Evi: There is a lot to study, a lot of documents, directives and regulations! But we are not representatives in terms of old-style political representatives. We strongly believe in direct democracy and these decisions are taken through online platforms involving our members. It is more difficult to have a connection when you are physically removed from the local level, as we are here at the EU. Nonetheless, online consultations in a number of areas and debate inside the delegation gives us a clear direction for the political positions we take.
Fuller: Can you explain how these consultations with party members work?
Evi: On the national level all members can propose legislation or amendments to existing legislation. They vote every so often on which proposals should go forward to the Parliament and start the legislative process. On other issues, we launch consultations on legislation that is already in the pipeline at the national level where we need to consult our members to determine a clear policy position. That happens quite often. It cannot take place everyday, but we do it for those areas where we need to have a strong political position backed by our members.
Fuller: On a national level the Five Star Movement has plans to introduce a minimum basic income in Italy. What is the 5SM position on equality: do you support equality of opportunity or equality of outcome?
Evi: We are the only European country that does not have comprehensive social protection schemes and we have been working to fill this gap. It is important to have access to a minimum income in order to live in dignity. But our proposal also has an economic purpose. People receiving the minimum basic income must also commit to engaging in some form of service, for example, helping out in their local city. It is not, as it is often presented in the media, giving money to people to stay at home and do nothing, but an economic plan to help people start again. Our numbers of unemployed and people living in extreme poverty are dramatically increasing, so it is a huge priority to change this situation.
Fuller: Do I understand correctly, that there is currently no unemployment or welfare aid in Italy?
Evi: We have temporary unemployment assistance only under certain conditions. You can potentially end up without state help of any kind. We do not have other kinds of assistance like paying bills for electricity, etc.
Fuller: One of your particular interests is the environment. How have you formulated your environmental policy? Do you feel people are willing to forego some economic advantages in the interest of the environment or is that a false choice?
Evi: It is a false choice, because economic opportunity and job potential is in line with environmental protection. Every star of the Five Star Movement stands for a major theme, one is public water, one is sustainable transport, one is the environment as such. For us the environmental aspect characterises all our policies – the environment and our health – those are deeply interlinked. For example, we are working on new limits for CO2 emissions for cars and vans. Every year more than 400 000 people die prematurely because of air pollution in Europe. This is part of delivering on the climate targets we all signed in Paris a few years ago, but are too often neglected.
Fuller: M5S is often said to be a Eurosceptic party and in the EU Parliament you sit in a block with UKIP. Would you ever consider leaving the EU?
Evi: We have never considered leaving the EU. We believe that the EU has to be changed from the inside. The monetary union as it is today puts a lot of constraints on some countries while others are exploiting the situation. Germany, for example, is constantly breaking the economic rules for its surplus in imports/exports, but there is no political will to solve this problem. We need a more fair approach in terms of respecting the economic rules and European law.
Fuller: When you refer to some countries ‘exploiting the situation’ are you referring to tax havens?
Evi: The European Union and Commission are always shouting and fighting all over the world against tax havens, while we have them within Europe. In the long run this will not benefit the creation of this common house that we should create.
Fuller: M5S has had a quite hostile reception in the English-speaking press…
Evi: Yes, we have been depicted as racists and fascists and as a movement that wants to destroy Europe. We had a great result in the recent national elections, but did not win [despite M5S being the single party with the largest number of votes, the centre-right coalition of parties received more votes and seats]. We thought our responsibility was to engage in a new government. The government that has been created with the Lega [a right-wing party] has a very clear mandate that we put black on white in a contract where we defined the boundaries where we wanted to act. We are two political forces that have their own identities and we are going to keep our own identities – I want to underline that. But we are going to work within the framework of that contract to deliver concrete measures to improve the quality of life for citizens living in Italy today.
Fuller: Still some people would say that going into coalition with the Lega is encouraging racism.
Evi: At the end of the day Italians came out with a large vote for us and a large vote for the Lega. Of course, people voted for other parties as well, but during the negotiations for government, some of those parties decided to disappear. We many times tried to form a government with the [centre-left] Democratic Party but they wouldn’t. Since we are elected by our citizens, our main priority has to be on fixing the problems our voters are facing – that is our responsibility – and we found a partner to reach our objectives with.
Fuller: Is it true that the Five Star Movement only allows its candidates to serve for two terms?
Evi: Yes. This is a rule that I am very attached to. It counts at all levels, local, national, European – I can only represent citizens twice. So I have the aim of improving the life of citizens in that time in order to get back to my previous work, my previous life, and hopefully find it better than when I left it. So it is a rule that keeps our feet on the ground.
Fuller: Will you not miss being involved in politics as you are now?
Evi: I don’t think so, because you can do politics in millions of ways. Defending our environment, for example. But the spirit should be one of service instead of as a career.
Fuller: Finally, why are you coming to DemCon?
Evi: Because I strongly believe that we need to speak more about the future of democracy, about those new scenarios that we are facing and those challenges that the European Union will face. So it is a great opportunity to exchange views with many other people.
Eleonora Evi MEP will be speaking at DemCon, a convention on the Future of Democracy, in Balbriggan, July 18-20
This article first appeared on VillageMagazine