Postcard from Strasbourg by Richard Steel

Dear Fred,

“Idle hands are the devil’s workshop and idle lips are his mouthpiece”. This old proverb seemed to sum up a week where bored Members were faced with another threadbare agenda, filling the vacuum with complaints about the intemperate language of others. For the second consecutive sitting a whole voting session was postponed due to lack of reports and the plenary ground to a halt half a day earlier than usual.

Press conferences were empty and even the presence of Mikhail Kasyanov, Russian opposition leader and former colleague of Boris Nemstov, drew only a couple of questions. Critics blamed the Commission’s leaner approach to legislation, and with only 23 laws planned this year, the situation is unlikely to change rapidly. Having accumulated legislative powers over the years, is the European Parliament going through something of an existential crisis when the source of its power is turned off? Forward thinking MEPs prefer to argue that it needs to re-think its role and move on from the legislative sausage machine to focus on its role of oversight and scrutiny.

Idle lips were very much in evidence as the tone of the debate on the Greek debt crisis hovered above mutual insults. EPP group leader Manfred Weber voiced his frustrations at Greece’s endless delays and told them politely to just get on with it. His Socialist counterpart, Gianni Pittella didn’t mince his words either when he told Greek ministers to stop making “ridiculous statements”, such as the threat from the Greek Defence Minister that “If Europe leaves us in crisis, we will flood it with migrants, and it will be even worse for Berlin if, in that wave of millions of economic migrants, there are some jihadists from Islamic State”. And if Greece’s economic woes were not enough, national football hero turned EPP MEP, Theodoros Zagorakis, has just had his parliamentary immunity lifted to face charges of recklessly causing injury after a stadium caretaker at the football club where he is president injured his hand on a staircase. A rather more serious case facing the Legal Affairs Committee was the decision to lift the immunity of former Bulgarian prime minister and current leader of the pan-European Party of European Socialists, Sergei Stanishev, who is accused of losing documents containing state secrets when in office.

President Juncker’s call for an EU army to “collectively take on Europe’s responsibilities in the world” was a gift that Nigel Farage could not resist. Having “poked the Russian bear”, he said, we are now using this as an opportunity to build a European army. “Mr Juncker said we must convey to Russia that we are serious. Who do you think you are kidding Mr Juncker?”. The reference to the punchline of the British TV series Dad’s Army was not lost on polyglot Frans Timmermans, and Farage could be seen joking with him and Juncker afterwards saying off-mic “it’s just a bit of fun”. Farage’s popularity seems to be largely based on the fact that he seems to be having a lot of fun- usually at someone else’s expense.

The most impressive speech of the week came from King Abdullah II of Jordan, who was so at home on this his fourth visit to Strasbourg that he inadvertently sat in the President’s seat. Speaking without notes, starting in French and then carrying on in English, he gave an eloquent defence of what it really means to be a Muslim in today’s world. “These terrorists have made the world’s Muslims their greatest target. We will not allow them to hijack our faith”. He thanked Europe for their support in dealing with the huge influx of refugees, which was akin to France “hosting the whole population of Belgium”. Maybe a prophetic word there for those worried by the long term ambitions of the Flemish nationalists.





Richard Steel

Senior Associate

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