Even in Death, Giulio Andreotti Defeated Margaret Thatcher One Last Time

It was an afternoon in April 2000, I was working as the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs' personal secretary; I was having a tough time, as a former Christian Democrat, working for a former Communist. Being a young woman was not helping either, in that stiff and misogynous place the Italian Foreign Ministry at the time was.

That afternoon, my secretary came to see me with excitement: President Giulio Andreotti is on the line and wants to talk to you. It was clear, from the way she announced it, that I had just gained 1000 points in her eyes. I gulped. Andreotti was a mythological figure and, because I did not belong to his faction within Christian Democrats, nor he was really involved with party issues, I never had the opportunity to really know him. I cleared my voice, and trying to be as casual and calm as I could, I answered the phone call. His daughter was somewhere on a Development Aid mission and she had found a few irregularities: he thought he would better report it to the Ministry. Why he called me, I still have no clue, but I thought that was very typical Andreotti, after all those years in power, to still personally take the phone to solve a problem.

For those who read Italian, there is a majestic interview, taken in 1974 by Adriana Fallaci, that is worth reading to understand Andreotti. As Fallaci put in, those who have true power do not need to show off. And certainly Andreotti did not show off. He used to say, however, that power consumes those who do not have it; he was certainly right, since he died at 94.

A few years after the phone call, we found ourselves living next door to Andreotti. Apart from one disguised security guard sitting at a small desk in front of his door, there was no apparent sign that the most powerful man in Italy was living there. The house was furnished with elegance, but no show off. He attended Mass at the nearby Chiesa dei Fiorentini early every morning.

Andreotti's force was the power of mediation; he would never go above the lines. He was the president of the League of Catholic Students (FUCI) when he met in the Vatican Library his mentor, Alcide de Gasperi, one of modern Italy's founding fathers. Following him, Andreotti was elected to the Assembly that drafted the Italian Constitution, became Secretary of State at 27 and was virtually in any Italian government until 1991, the year in which President Francesco Cossiga made him a life senator. Until the forces kept him, he attended the Senate's works every day. As minister, Andreotti would read and comment all the papers and documents he was given, he would ask for advice from his staff, and then he would make his decision.

Italy began losing its position of prominence within the EEC when Andreotti left government.

With him as prime minister or foreign affairs minister, every EEC Council meeting was minutely prepared. Andreotti had very close ties with both Helmut Kohl and Francois Mitterrand, but he also thought that no member state was too little not to be included in an alliance. So, by the time the Council meeting was held, he could rely on those countries to vote alongside Italy.

With Margaret Thatcher, there was on the contrary mutual dislike. He defeated her several times.

In June 1985, Italy held the EEC presidency; Andreotti was foreign minister and the socialist leader Bettino Craxi was prime minister. The Italian presidency's main goal was to convene an Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) to reform the EEC Treaty and finally implement the common market. Great Britain, Denmark and Greece strongly opposed the IGC. The Italian presidency worked extensively on bilateral meetings before the European Council in Milan (June 28-29, 1985). Margaret Thatcher, seemed not to have been aware until too late that "some kind of secret agreement had been reached before the Council began [..] When I had a bilateral meeting with Craxi [...] I came away thinking how easy it had been to get my points across." Hence, during the European Council, the UK, Greece and Denmark continued to oppose convening the IGC. After a tense debate, Andreotti made his official proposal to call an IGC and Craxi asked to take a formal vote on the question. In an institutional setting where consensus is the way of doing things, it was a very strong political step. While Great Britain, Greece and Denmark voted against it, all the other member states voted in favor. Thatcher was furious. In The Downing Street Years she wrote: "My time had been wasted. I would have to return to the House of Commons and explain why all of the high hopes which had been held of Milan had been dashed. And I had not even had an opportunity while there to go to the opera."

On July 1, 1990 Italy again held the EEC presidency. Shortly after that, Andreotti was elected prime minister. His priority this time was to lock in an agreement on an European economic and monetary union (EMU). During Italy's six-month presidency, Thatcher made little secret of her disdain for Andreotti's chairmanship, and on at least one occasion gave him a trademark "hand-bagging." At a meeting with Thatcher at Chequers, the tone of the gathering deteriorated rapidly. In the helicopter ride back to London, Andreotti acknowledged that he and his British counterpart had agreed on absolutely nothing. He then organized a special informal European Council in Rome (October 27-28, 1990); despite Thatcher's opposition, the so-called Carli Report on EMU was approved -- as Andreotti would tell the press -- by all countries but "one nation." The following week, Thatcher, in reporting about the summit at the House of Commons, made her famous outburst: "No, no, no!" in replying to a question about further EU integration. This, however, sparked the resignation of Britain's foreign secretary, Sir Geoffrey Howe, and within weeks Thatcher was prime minister no longer, having fallen -- as she wrote in The Downing Street Years -- in a "Florentine trap" -- a clear reference to Machiavellian politics.

I believe Giulio Andreotti died with his characteristic grimacing smile stamped in the corner of his mouth. Indeed, the events of the past few weeks marked "his" last victories: after 20 years, Enrico Letta's is the first government led and formed by former Christian Democrats and, even in death, he defeated Mrs. Thatcher one last time.