Plus ça change. All eyes were on the enfants terribles of the hemicycle as to how they would use their freedom of speech to react to the Paris shootings. Both Marine Le Pen and Nigel Farage put the blame squarely on government policies but they were out of sync with the general mood, which was one of defiance and defence of European values. Donald Tusk in his maiden speech as President of the European Council said “may this brutal act only strengthen our unity, in defence of our liberty, of our solidarity and of our laughter”. There was not much laughter as the grim reality of the massacre in Baga, northern Nigeria slowly emerged and it was perhaps inevitable that one MEP announced “Je suis Baga aussi”.
Such cross-party consensus was not evident throughout the week and the grand coalition was put to the test over the Commission’s 2015 work programme. As usual, each political group had tabled their own resolution and each one had been critical to some degree over the plan to withdraw parts of the air and waste package – except the EPP. Even the Eurosceptic EFDD had supported the waste package for its job creation potential and improvement to resource security. Not your usual UKIP position and sure enough all the signatures come from the increasingly green-leaning 5 Star Movement of Beppe Grillo. The EPP said it was against a long shopping list resolution critical of the work programme and backed out of talks on a joint resolution. There were then rumours of a joint resolution with the Tories but the Socialists squashed that initiative, claiming it would violate the spirit of their cooperation agreement with the EPP. The result was that no resolution mustered a majority, despite the fact that the relevant paragraphs on the withdrawals in the Socialist and Green resolutions both won a majority. Surely a case of shooting yourself in the foot.
Signs that an election is not far away were clearly evident in the exchange of tweets between the LibDem Catherine Beader and Tory Julie Girling – so-called coalition partners. Bearder put the blame for the collapsed talks on the Tories, to which the Girling replied in fluent twitterish “YrU creating divisions? I told you yesterday Comm (Vella) confirmed direct to me as Rapp that #CleanAir package is NOT withdrawn; It’s the EPP and S&D who can’t agree”. Maybe all MEPs’ speeches should be confined to the 140 characters allowed by Twitter.
Signs of mutiny in the ranks were also apparent in the list of names supporting a committee of inquiry into the Luxleaks revelations. The Greens have been tirelessly working at getting the required 188 signatures (25% of MEPs), without tainting themselves by accepting any signatures from the eurosceptic right. The total was finally reached on Tuesday and indicated that a number of EPP and Socialist MEPs had broken ranks with their group’s position, which had tried to protect Jean-Claude Juncker from any uncomfortable questioning.
Another year, another chapter in the never ending Strasbourg soap. The Committee Chairmen have given the green light to draft a new report that will instigate a change in the EU’s treaties allowing MEPs the power to decide where they sit. With the new intake of MEPs already showing their support for a single seat in the 2015 budget vote, the instigators are confident they can force the European Council to consider the treaty revision. Let’s see what Donald Tusk makes of that ….