Postcard from Strasbourg by Richard Steel

Dear Fred,
You know it’s a quiet week for news when rabbits and donkeys grab the headlines, but animal lovers are a vocal constituency and have been inundating MEPs' mail boxes for weeks with missives on the plight of farm rabbits and donkey welfare.

ETS rapporteur, Ian Duncan, no novice when it comes to dealing with lobbying, was reduced to posting an out-of-office message basically saying if you’re contacting me about the rabbit amendment, I’m in favour, OK  now leave me alone.

It’s been a good week for Socialist leader Gianni Pittella, who is off to Athens to receive honorary citizenship and has also the prospect of a meeting with Jean-Claude Juncker every three months to look forward to. The Commission President announced that he would meet with Pittella and the 11 vice-presidents of the Socialist group, a G13 to replace the G5, to discuss the group’s priorities and keep them on board with his work programme. Juncker is quoted as telling the group that Europe was the love child of both the EPP and Socialists, and no doubt kissed a few heads in the process. The future of Europe white paper was the main topic for discussion and Pittella gave out rather confusing signals as to where the Socialists stood. “The buzzword of today”, he said” the supposed panacea for all ills, is a multi-speed Europe”; but he went on to argue that this was just a method rather than a strategy and that they should focus more on direction than speed – code for moving Europe in the direction of stronger social rights and more investment. He concluded by saying “unity must be our priority (in Rome) but those who want to integrate further must be allowed to progress”. Which sounds like multi-speed Europe after all.

Manfred Weber said the future of Europe was all about people and could hardly contain his excitement that the idea of an 18th birthday Interrail pass has taken another step forward in the 2018 budget proposal. “Let’s get young people enthusiastic about Europe again” was his rallying call. His Liberal coalition partners were anything but enthusiastic but they know better than to dismiss the EPP leader’s pet project. Instead the Liberals did their best to put any student off by wrapping the gift up in Euro-speak – the ticket should not just favour rail but “encourage multimodality and integrated ticketing, favouring the most decarbonised route”. Ah the joys of travel.

Weber was in a less generous mood when it came to the “enemies of Europe”. Sporting a bright orange tie, he gave his full support to the Dutch over their spat with Turkey, and said in very clear terms that Turkey “cannot and will not become a full member of the EU”. Some hope was extended to the Western Balkans who were considered “members of the European family – in the long term”. Weber was also unforgiving in the way anti-European parties were using EU money to attack the hand that fed them. “Are we so stupid to fund our enemies?”. He was the first to applaud the unprecedented punishment handed down by President Tajani to the extreme-right Polish MEP who had caused uproar in the House by saying women should earn less than men because they are weaker, smaller and less intelligent – based on the claim there were no women in the top 100 chess players. This pawn of the extremists clearly forgot that the Queen is the most powerful piece on the board. Checkmate ++.

Lá Fhéile Pádraig Sona Duit (Happy St Patrick’s Day)

Richard

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