Postcard from Strasbourg by Richard Steel

Postcard from Strasbourg

Dear Fred,
Goucho Marx famously said that he didn’t want to belong to a club that would have him as a member. Guy Verhofstadt may lack the trademark moustache but is equally fond of the witty one-liner.

He had already set the scene for the visit of the Polish prime minister by claiming that if Poland applied today to join the EU club it would be rejected. Martin Schulz had also managed to hit a raw Polish nerve by warning of a “coup” in Warsaw and that Poland was heading in the direction of Russia’s Putin. Well it was certainly another coup for Schulz to persuade newly-elected Polish prime minister Beata Szydlo to come to Strasbourg to make her case and he was a model of silent diplomacy, leaving the barbed criticisms to others. In signs that no one wanted to further offend the Poles, EPP leader Manfred Weber decided it might be better if a non-German spoke for the group and even the Polish EPP members in Civic Platform decided it was better to remain quiet. It was left to Spaniard Esteban Gonzalez Pons to state “it’s not a question of laws but values. You can change the laws but you cannot change the values”.

Szydlo defiantly defended her set of values – freedom, equality, justice and sovereignty – those that her party had fought so hard for. There was a touch of irony in her remark that surely MEPs had rather more urgent issues to deal with than Poland’s internal affairs. She put Poland firmly at the core of Europe and there was no question of a Polexit. She was helped by the fact that however extreme her party is considered by outsiders, it’s moderate in comparison to some of the hysterical voices from Poland’s far-right. Her compatriot, Janusz Korwin-Mikke, who is considered too toxic to even join Marine Le Pen’s party, played the pantomime villain to perfection, saying the EU should be “destroyed” and that he “hated democracy, it’s vile”.

Now that the leaders of Greece, Hungary and Poland have all seen fit to come and plead their case in Strasbourg, the big question is who is next? Schulz no doubt would love to get David Cameron to come and set out his Brexit deal and he might get a helping hand from Manfred Weber, who was all smiles after his recent dinner with Cameron and Merkel. Another target is the current Danish government, who have been invited to the Civil Liberties Committee to explain their controversial policy on confiscating the assets of refugees. They might also get the chance to explain why they no longer want to fly the EU blue flag awarded for clean beaches, which is apparently to do with Brussels preventing beach-loving Danish dogs from swimming in the sea.

The 45 members who will make up the committee of inquiry on car emissions, or EMIS in EP-speak, were announced this week, with Francoise Grossetete for the EPP warning that it mustn’t turn into an “inquisition court”, with diesel on trial. There had been fears that it would be stacked with Italians to either protect or have a go at Antonio Tajani, the former industry commissioner, and Germans to defend politicians close ties with their beleaguered car industry but the membership has turned out to be reasonably balanced. The EPP never wanted the committee in the first place and are keen to ensure it looks ahead to offering solutions rather than just raking up the past.

Having started with Groucho Marx it’s perhaps fitting to end with another of his memorable quotes “Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies”.



Richard Steel

Senior Associate

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