Postcard from Strasbourg by Richard Steel

Postcard from Strasbourg

Believe it or not, the official UK referendum campaign only starts today, which begs the question what we’ve been listening to the over the past few months. One of the more imaginative, hands-on ideas of the Remain camp – or should that be the “Innits” in good Estuary English- has been the “Hug a Brit “campaign.

Anglophiles are encouraged to share the love by literally hugging a Brit. The movement clearly hasn’t caught on in Strasbourg as the only hug Guy Verhofstadt looked like giving his British colleagues was a suffocating bear hug. The “Hof” has a gift for getting under the skin of his opponents and the normally composed and dignified Syed Kamall reacted to his jibes over counter-terrorism measures by what can only be described as a rude hand gesture. To his credit, the pro-Brexit leader of the ECR group did not try and claim it was trick of the light or that he was really swatting a fly, but in a tongue-in-cheek tweet he admitted “ You can take the boy out of North London but….”.

Two long-running sagas finally came to an end on Thursday with the adoption after five years hard slog of the PNR passenger data regulation and the overhaul of the EU’s data protection rules. PNR has become the talisman of the Right arguing that it will equip the security services with information to combat terrorists. The balance of security against privacy has divided the parliament for years and recent events in Paris and Brussels have added pressure on MEPs to act. To make sure they finally signed on the dotted line, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls was in town, urging MEPs to fulfil their responsibilities but also having to answer why it was his own Socialist colleagues who had held up the vote and why France had not managed to finalise its own PNR scheme. His colleague Emmanuel Macron was also working the corridors – we just needed Arnaud Montebourg and we could have held a Parti Socialiste primary.

Another month, another committee of inquiry. The Panama Papers have proved just too tempting for MEPs eager to feed on the public outrage. When the target is wealthy individuals, offshore law firms and duplicitous companies, it’s not hard to see this as the goose that’s laid the golden egg. A decision has been taken in principle to set up the new committee but the mandate has still to be argued over, with some advocating that it should be combined with the ongoing TAXE II into a super tax committee. The Greens would like to throw into the mix money laundering and prudential supervision of credit institutions, but the scope is likely to be more limited. Never ones to miss an opportunity to hit the EU below the belt, UKIP MEP Stephen Woolfe claimed the world’s biggest tax haven was none other than Brussels, where fat cat Commissioners and their officials paid pittance in tax. No hugs for him clearly – certainly not from Miguel Arias Canete who risks being one of the first guests of the new body.

If parliament thought this decision would help position itself as the champion of the little man then it shot itself in the foot with the vote to go ahead with the €10 million drivers’ service on the grounds of security. The message seems to be its OK for staff to take the perilous metro while Members are chauffeured around. The revelation that one of the Brussels bombers had worked for one of the contract cleaning services has been used an argument that vetting needs to be brought in-house, just as the security services themselves were brought in-house following one bank hold-up too many on the parliament’s premises. I’ll be looking for danger money soon to do this job.

 Amitiés

 Richard

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Richard Steel

Senior Associate

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