In the run-up to the 2009 European Parliament elections, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s selections as female candidates for his People of Liberty party caused a significant stir for their lack of political experience. Now that the European elections are over, I have been looking at fellow women MEPs who are new to the European Parliament.
Berlusconi’s list included Angela Sozio, a former contestant in the Italian version of Big Brother; Barbara Matera, a former Miss Italy contestant and TV actress; Camilla Ferranti, an Italian soap star; and Eleonora Gaggioli, also a TV actress. Berlusconi said “I want young faces, new faces, to renew the image of Italy and the PdL in Europe.” Maybe that’s why he appointed Mara Carfagna, the former topless model who has been Italy’s Minister for Equal Opportunities since May 2008 despite being an avowed anti-feminist and opposing Gay Pride marches.
One of the former models and actresses on the People of Liberty list, Barbara Matera (27, Il Popolo della Libertà, EPP) won a seat in the European Parliament. She is joined by Licia Ronzulli (34, Il Popolo della Libertà, EPP), another MEP whose previous experience in politics is unclear, but who was named by Barbara Montereale (who has testified as to Berlusiconi’s alleged use of escorts), as having frequented Berlusconi’s infamous Villa Certosa, and Lara Comi (26, Il Popolo della Libertà, EPP) whose political career has also seen a remarkably rapid rise.
It would appear that Mr. Berlusconi is not choosing these female candidates for their knowledge of and commitment to politics. His selection of women parliamentarians accurately matches his choice of women companions outside his marriage. Although I am sure these young women are fine, upstanding citizens, by no stretch of the imagination are they suited for high political office.
Marietje Schaake 31 is a Dutch Liberal who has substantial experience as an adviser and consultant on issues of diversity, integration and Muslims in the West. She has written several papers on these topics. She has completed internships at the US House of Representatives (under the Lantos Fellowship) and the Office of the Prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in the Hague. She has also been awarded the Barney Karbank Memorial Prize in 2007 for outstanding leadership on human rights.
I am particularly pleased to see women like my fellow Socialist Eider Gardiazábal Rubial elected. She is the youngest Spanish MEP and was previously the Secretary of Education, Administration and Finance of the National Executive JSE-EgazRamón Rubial. She was also Secretary General of Socialist Youth of Bilbao, and has been a Councillor in the City of Bilbao since 2004 with responsibility for budget, economy and finance. In 2002 she was elected Secretary of the Executive Equality PSE-EE office for which she was re-elected in 2005 and continues today. She studied at high school in France and holds a French and Spanish bachelor’s degree in Economics with a specialisation in management accounting.
The youngest MEP in the Parliament, Emilie Turunen, 25, is from Denmark’s Socialistisk Folkeparti(SF), part of the Greens/EFA. She was previously head of SF’s youth organisation, was a coordinator for Denmark’s Social Forum, Restart Denmark in 2006, and has campaigned against trafficking of women after working in a child crisis centre in Cambodia with DanChurchAid.
It is quite simply disgraceful for the likes of Berlusconi to put forward women who have neither the experience or qualifications to be successful in politics. It undermines all women when some, even a very few, female colleagues are not up to the job. Maybe this is what Berlusconi really has in mind. I am, however, absolutely certain that Marietje, Eider, Emilie and all the other bright young women who have come into the European Parliament with the right kind of background will win through and make an outstanding contribution. Good luck to all of you.