Italy finally picks second commissioner

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After weeks of government squabbling and an unseemly wrangle with Brussels, Italy yesterday named the second of its European Commissioners, less than 24 hours before they were due at a meeting.

The Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, announced Emma Bonino, 46, a Radical Party deputy and passionate campaigner for women's rights, would join the economist Mario Monti. In the next breath, Mr Berlusconi revealed that Ms Bonino would be responsible for consumer protection, while Mr Monti would receive the internal markets portfolio - an indiscretion likely to antagonise the Commission President, Jacques Santer.

Relations had already been strained by Mr Berlusconi's unprecedented demand that Brussels say which posts the Commissioners would get before they were chosen. Since neither portfolio is attractive, it seems Rome is being punished for its presumption.

Ms Bonino's appointment was decided by the Prime Minister after deadlocked cabinet meetings. It was seen in Rome as a snub to his Northern League coalition partners, who had insisted on the second seat for one of their deputies. That was blocked by the third coalition partner, the neo-Fascist-led National Alliance, which favoured a technocrat. Into this battle strode the Radical Party, led by the civil rights campaigner Marco Pannella. The party is tiny, but important to Mr Berlusconi in these days of turmoil, as it normally votes with the government. Ms Bonino's nomination is the price for keeping it on side.

A compromise candidate, Giorgio Napolitano, a respected member of the Democratic Party of the Left, would have offered Mr Berlusconi the chance to send one Commissioner from government ranks and one from the opposition. But with the two at loggerheads over corruption allegations, Mr Berlusconi was not in a mood for fence mending.