The deal with Turkey on the return of refugees led to some bitter exchanges; not just on the legality of the proposed measures, but whether they marked a compromise too far of our core principles. The UN’s top refugee official, Filippo Grandi, told the House: “Europe is facing a moment of truth. This is the time to reaffirm the values upon which it was built”.
While the EPP seemed willing to endorse the deal, the Socialist leader Gianni Pittella, warned that this could not be a blank cheque and that Turkey’s decision to close down the main opposition newspaper was a worrying sign.
Guy Verhofstadt for the Liberals was typically more blunt – we cannot “outsource” our problems and give the keys to the gates of Europe to “Sultan Erdogan”. The deal with Turkey he claimed “is like the Americans telling Mexicans – you manage the borders in future”. Now that sounds familiar. Maybe the first foreign policy initiative of a future President Trump would be to build a wall along the Turkish/Syrian border. And who pays for the wall folks? Syria pays for the wall! Whether Trump’s chances were helped by the ringing endorsement this week from Jean-Marie Le Pen remains to be seen.
The refugee crisis is also having an impact on the internal cohesion of certain political groups. Last month I referred to the incendiary remarks by Beatrix von Storch from the anti-immigrant AfD party that women, but not children, should be shot if trying to cross borders illegally.
She has now been asked to leave the ECR group and Tory leader Ashley Fox, with a very stiff upper lip, said “It has become clear that we and the AfD are travelling in different political directions. Several comments and actions are not consistent with our core values of freedom, respect and equality for all EU countries. Therefore we think it’s best if we go our separate ways”.
Von Storch blamed the whole thing on some deal reached between David Cameron and Angela Merkel (at Maison Antoine?) to try and damage the AfD before the super Sunday regional elections this weekend. The fact that she was also filmed meeting up with the Austrian far-right FPO may give some indication of which new group she and her colleague, Herr Pretzell, will end up in.
Turkey has certainly become an explosive issue. A Greek MEP from the Golden Dawn party was evicted from the chamber by Martin Schulz for a “breach of values” after calling Turks “dirty and polluted” and “like wild dogs”. Nigel Farage, never one to pass up the chance to bring Brexit into the debate, warned that a vote for the UK to remain in the EU was a vote for Turkey to join. It was therefore a pleasant relief to get down to some more customary mud-slinging between the left and right over the fight against terrorism.
Both the EPP and ECR accused the Socialists and Liberals of playing dirty tricks with the EU Passenger Name Record Directive (PNR) by delaying its adoption until the Data Protection package is ready. Tory home affairs spokesman, and PNR rapporteur, Timothy Kirkhope, could not hide his anger at Guy Verhofstadt in particular, stating “I am completely disgusted by his pitiful political games”.
As we end the week basking in spring sunshine, spare a thought for the poor staffers caught in a freak snowstorm in the Ardennes on Monday and who took 9 hours to drive to Strasbourg. If only they had known about the proposed new MEP drivers service, with a €10 million budget for new cars and uniformed chauffeurs. Who needs the gravy train when a limo will do.