Postcard from Strasbourg by Richard Steel

Dear Fred,

It’s official. As predicted last month, the final 2016 calendar has doubled the number of constituency weeks to nine, meaning that MEPs are going to have a lot more time to be re-acquainted with their families. It basically means that one week a month members will not be working, or available for meetings, in Brussels. Being an MEP is not a part-time job yet but this is the clearest admission so far that there isn’t enough work to keep them busy.

They are making up for the paucity of legislation by making heavy weather of every item on the agenda – and in the process revealing the deep fault lines running between the groups. A report on shareholder’s rights and corporate governance proved too hot to handle and was postponed to July. Months of work on a non-legislative resolution on energy security came to naught after the majority of the EPP turned on their own rapporteur and rejected the report (maybe something to do with support for a moratorium on shale gas).

And then there was the TTIP fiasco, a week of claims and counter-claims ending in the ignominious postponement of the vote by President Schulz to save Socialist blushes over their divisions. The other groups were having great fun at the Socialists’ expense, none more so than ECR press spokesman James Holtum, who tweeted: “The Socialists’ rambling position on #TTIP is like a Kate Perry song – “Cause you’re hot then you’re cold, You’re yes then you’re no. You’re in then you’re out, You’re up then you’re down”. Sadly for TTIP watchers he gave no indication of whether the final lines of the song would materialise: “We fight, we break up, we kiss, we make up”.

The procedural motion that President Schulz used to postpone the TTIP vote had everyone scrambling for their rule books, none more so than the troublemakers in UKIP. On no fewer than three occasions they tried to suspend the whole session by invoking a little used rule. The third attempt on Wednesday afternoon was made during a serious debate on the situation in Burundi and would have succeeded if the vice-president chairing the sitting hadn’t suspended the debate for 30 minutes to allow more members to rush to the chamber. Expect some rapid amendment of the rules before this device is tried again.

Harmony was restored among the grand coalition partners when it came to the vote on Russia, which was politely told that it was no longer considered a strategic partner of the EU. The mainstream parties also delighted in pointing out that the extreme left and right had all failed to support the resolution, a further sign of the cosiness between Putin and European populist and nationalist parties. Being one of the “naughty nineteen” MEPs on the Russian blacklist banned from entering the country became a badge of honour and Syed Kamall joked that there was vigorous competition inside the ECR group to get on the list. Conspiracy theorists will no doubt be working overtime on why no Socialists have attracted the Russian’s attention. 

This was also the week Uber arrived in Strasbourg, tempted by the long queue of officials waiting to be whisked away to their choucroute dinners. Someone no doubt will blame their arrival on TTIP.





Richard Steel

Senior Associate

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