Postcard from Strasbourg by Richard Steel

Postcard from Strasbourg

Dear Fred,
Breaking news! Rebecca Harms, co-chairman of the Greens, has joined the tea party. No, not the Ted Cruz variety brewing up a storm in Iowa, but her very own formula to convince sceptical Brits about the wonders of Brussels – drop in for a cup of tea, talk gardens and oh by the way the EU is not really so awful you know. It was not the craziest idea to emerge from a debate on Donald Tusk’s draft proposals

on Brexit that veered from the absurd (Nigel Farage calling the emergency brake more like a handbrake turn) to the ridiculous (Guy Verhofstadt claiming that René Magritte would have been proud of the assertion that ever closer union is in fact not an ever closer union). Gianni Pittella brought us back to earth with the claim that a “virus of fear” had infected Europe, and it wasn’t Zika. The British press were also enjoying themselves, with the right wing Daily Mail calling the deal “The Great Delusion” and the tabloid Sun asking “Who do EU think you are kidding Mr Cameron”, a pun on the ever-popular TV programme Dad’s Army. I think the FT probably got it right when they urged Cameron to hurry up with his referendum or else there would be no EU to leave. They were echoing warnings from the French Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, that unless they got to grips now with the refugee crisis, the EU project would die “not in decades or years but very fast”.

Someone who clearly needed a cup of tea and a lie down in a darkened room was Beatrix von Storch. The MEP from the German anti-immigrant AfD party caused uproar when she not only backed her party’s policy of taking a pot shot at refugees illegally crossing the border but said this should apply equally to women and children. Given that UNICEF had informed us this week that more than one-third of the refugees crossing from Turkey to Greece are children, that makes for an awful lot of shooting. She later offered a reprieve to kids but in her eyes women were still fair game. Could this be the same Beatrix von Storch who just two weeks earlier had suggested housing refugees in the empty Strasbourg building, helpfully pointing out that MEPs’ offices were equipped with beds and toilets, with a nice gym and a TV system that could show programmes from back home? Beatrix – what happened to the love?

With the paucity of legislation coming out of Team Juncker, parliament has taken to scrutiny with renewed vigour and no more so than in verifying comitology measures. A majority of MEPs were happy to send three authorisations for GM soybeans back to the Commission drawing board. They had less success on the highly topical issue of exhaust emission tests where the car lobby managed to convince lawmakers that greater flexibility was needed to exceed official limits. A scan of the voting records indicate that enough Socialists from car-making countries like Spain and Italy were convinced to abstain, denying the green lobby the absolute majority it needed. Green co-chairman Philippe Lamberts said the vote cast ”a dark and poisonous spot on the parliament’s track record”. It will also add to the tensions in the special committee set up to look into Dieselgate, which is already delayed in starting due to squabbles between the big groups on share out of top jobs.

The week also provided one long tea party for the parliament’s own teetotal president. Martin Schulz chalked up meetings with the presidents of Estonia, Nigeria, ECB, and EBRD on top of a double-header with President Hollande on Monday and again this coming Sunday. The icing on the cake though was finally managing to nail down David Cameron to address political group leaders on 16 February, just two days before the EU summit. While many MEPs will complain that he should have addressed the whole plenary, the fact he has agreed to the meeting at all suggests he recognises the need to keep parliament on board with his reform plans and avoid their own version of the red card.



Richard Steel

Senior Associate

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