Postcard from Strasbourg by Richard Steel

Dear Fred,

Solidarity was the buzz word of the week and it seemed to be in remarkably short supply. Member states were accused of selfishness in their response to the humanitarian crisis in the Mediterranean and there was widespread support from MEPs for a binding quota for distribution of asylum seekers.

“It’s not fair that just five member states deal with 80% of the requests” said Gianni Pittella, the Socialist Group leader. Poland was particularly singled out for its lack of solidarność, given that it hosts Frontex, the EU’s border management agency, which this month celebrates European Day for Border Guards (ED4BG) which allows the “border guard community to share best practice”. Tickets still available. Hungary joined Poland in the naughty corner following reactions to the distribution of a rather leading questionnaire to the general public on the government’s strict immigration policies. Swedish Liberal Cecilia Wikstrom accused prime minister Viktor Orban of “transforming Hungary into a mini-Russia”, and he was warned of the dangers of pandering to the far-right extremists in Jobbik who are now the second biggest party in Hungary. Orban clearly takes delight in goading the Liberals as he casually mentioned that he’s also willing to look into the re-introduction of the death penalty.

As so often in Strasbourg, it is the events outside the plenary that garner the most attention and there was great excitement at the prospect of bumping into a delegation of brightly-arrayed judges from the European Court of Justice. They had been summoned by the Legal Affairs Committee to give their opinion on proposals to double the number of judges in order to deal with the backlog of cases. It turned out the judges were against any increase and clearly stated “the last thing the General Court needs is the creation of a Mexican army of new judges, supported by a reduced number of qualified personnel”. The Mexican military could maybe take offence but it’s nice to see our top lawyers speaking with such clarity. If only MEPs could be so self-sacrificial. Hidden in the forty or more reports granting budgetary discharge for funds spent in 2013 was an amendment, supported by more than three-quarters of the assembly, which deletes an appeal for more transparency on how they use their office and staff allowances.

The big revelation of the week was that a glass of local Gewürztraminer wine has as many calories as a slice of Alsace’s famous kugelhopf cake. Figure-conscious MEPs were keen that this little known fact should be clearly printed on alcohol labels so consumers could make informed, healthier choices. Try telling that to Jan Albrecht, the Green MEP steering through the data protection legislation, who has offered a free beer to anyone wanting to discuss data privacy with him next Monday. Expect a long queue of thirsty lobbyists and one can only hope that the aptly named Marcus Pretzell joins in. However this new German AfD MEP may have other things on his mind after being threatened with expulsion from the party for telling tales out of class. He stands accused of leaking to the press that his colleague and ITRE Vice-Chairman  Hans-Olaf Henkel, a former president of the German business association, has been conspicuous by his absence. The papers report that Henkel replied by email from a cruise ship on the Amazon that he alone was in charge of his diary planning.

Happy Labour Day,




Richard Steel

Senior Associate

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