Andreotti, who has died aged 94, was nicknamed the 'Eternal One' of Italian politics. He was the opposite of bunga-bunga loving Berlusconi

The death of Giulio Andreotti, at the age of 94, marks a milestone in Italian, indeed European, history. Andreotti dominated Italian politics for decades, and was nicknamed l’eterno, the “Eternal One”. With its plethora of parties and its endless revolving door governments, Italy’s first republic seemed terribly unstable, but this was all smoke and mirrors: every one of those governments, up until 1992, contained Andreotti, either as Prime Minister (a post he held seven times) or in some senior position, or else several members of il corrente Andreottiano, his faction of the Christian Democrat party, which was nicknamed the gens Julia, the Julian clan. By happy coincidence, Andreotti’s wife was called Livia, a name all fans of Robert Graves will be familiar with.

Andreotti’s domestic life was totally blameless. I once saw Donna Livia, as she was called, in church, and she was an unremarkable lady. Her photo rarely appeared in the newspapers, and Italians, to their immense credit, are not really interested in politicians’ wives. Her profile was low. So, funnily enough was Andreotti’s; he would appear in the Holy Communion queue at early morning Mass, but you would only be aware it was him at the last minute. He was always accompanied by la scorta, a plain-clothes police guard, but despite this, Andreotti was so unassuming that you would be hard pressed to spot him in even a small crowd.

I once got into conversation with one of the scorta. “I suppose you spend a lot of your time in church,” I said sympathetically. “Eh, si,” he replied, with a gloomy sigh.

Andreotti would go to a different church every morning, and always leave as soon as Mass was over. He would never leave the house without a dozen or more envelopes, in each of which was a 10,000 lira note. These would be dispensed to the beggars that stand at every church door in Rome, or to any who approached him in the street. He often wore a green Loden coat, the preferred dress of the European integrationist, along with deliberately unfashionable spectacles.

Andreotti was one of those men, who though married, was of deeply clerical appearance and demeanour. He was quite the opposite of the bunga-bunga loving Silvio Berlusconi. He represented a different strain in the political tradition, one best exemplified by his mentor de Gasperi, and of course the great Konrad Adenauer in Germany. The era of Christian Democracy seems like a different age now; then Church and Sate worked together, and the result was the European Social Model, which was great – while it lasted.

I once asked another Christian Democrat politician, the late Francesco Cossiga, what Andreotti was really like. Cossiga was an indiscreet man in many ways, so what he said was bound to be true. He admired Thatcher (“era bravissima… molto ben preparata…”) and remarked on the way that the Lady had not liked Andreotti. Of Andreotti he said this: “He’s very reserved. He will never tell you what he is thinking. He never puts his arm around you or shows any enthusiasm about anything. You never feel you are his friend.” Thatcher, of course, always told us what she was thinking, so no wonder they did not get on. As for il divo Giulio (the divine Julius, as Julius Caesar became), he takes his secrets with him. And what secrets they must have been!