Postcard from Strasbourg by Richard Steel

Dear Fred,

Popes. Kings. Presidents. Chancellors. It’s an enviable guest list and as the legislative work dries up, the parliament seems to be re-inventing itself as a platform for leaders to address a European audience This week saw Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande repeat the double act twenty-five years ago by Helmut Kohl and Francois Mitterrand.

Those were the heady days leading up to German reunification and this was a rather more downbeat affair, with the refugee crisis exposing all too clearly the fault lines in that wider reunification of the European continent brought about by the fall of the Berlin wall. Their sombre message of more Europe as the only solution to all Europe’s woes was a direct echo of Jean-Claude Juncker’s State of the Union address last month.

They seem an odd couple Merkel and Hollande. There was none of the symbolism seen in that iconic photo of Kohl and Mitterrand holding hands at Verdun in 1984. Not even the semblance of parity that the Merkozy partnership offered. Marine Le Pen gave us a foretaste of what the 2017 Presidential elections might be like when she addressed Hollande as Merkel’s Vice-Chancellor, “administrator of the province of France”. Nigel Farage was also quick to say this was no partnership of equals “France is now diminished, trapped inside a currency. It’s an irony that a project designed to contain German power has now given us a totally German-dominated Europe”. Ryszard Legutko, leader of the Polish Law and Justice party, who are widely expected to win the upcoming elections, complained that Franco-German dominance of the agenda was in fact part of the problem not the solution and the views of all 28 member states needed to be listened to. As George Orwell might have put it: all member states are equal, but some are more equal than others.

Germany was again in the news as MEPs expressed moral indignation at the goings on in VW, compounded by the fact that it had been unearthed by the Americans. Suddenly, all that defiant posturing in the TTIP debate about European standards and controls being far superior to the US were looking rather hollow. Industry Commissioner Elzbieta Bienkowska was given a rough ride for being too “relaxed” (she certainly doesn’t look it) and they did not share her confidence that national authorities would sort it all out. Calls went up from all sides for a new EU type-approval authority to end the cosy relationship between car manufacturers and their national supervisors.

It was, meanwhile, a good week for Scottish tartan and Donegal tweed which were used as examples of local products that could benefit from EU-wide protection of geographical indication. MEPs wanted to extend protection from agricultural products to locally-manufactured goods that could help preserve cultural heritage and traditional know-how.

After a hectic week meeting kings and presidents, Martin Schulz will finally be able to relax this weekend as he takes part in the 85th international white truffle fair in Monforte d’Alba and will be awarded honorary citizenship for his troubles. There has to be some perks to the job!

Amitiés,

Richard

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