Postcard from Strasbourg by Richard Steel

Dear Fred,

It was a good week for the prophets of doom, who like the witches in Macbeth around their cauldron, foretold the dangers ahead. Beware Tsipras, they incanted, for he will leave the euro and drag Italy down with him. Beware the Putin, for he is a bad sort and will drive a wedge between you and the Americans.

And beware the jihadis, for they are living right next door to you. These three problems – the Eurozone, Russia and terrorism – exercised MEP’s minds throughout the week but solutions were in short supply.

Greece’s predicament elicited little sympathy from the right of the House, who held fast to the line that Tsipras must simply follow the rules. Syed Kamall, ECR leader, called it a “slow motion car crash” and a hard lesson on what membership of the euro really entails. “If Greece wants to splash the cash, then it must understand that voters in other Eurozone countries may want to show it the exit door”. The Italians and Portuguese were clearly unimpressed that Tsipras threatened to drag them down with him, although italexit doesn’t have quite the same ring as grexit. Even the left were losing a little patience, dismissing Greek demands for German reparations and Philippe Lamberts, the Greens’ co-president, felt a bit more discretion and bit less public gesturing might help their cause.

A decision was finally reached on setting up a special committee to look into unfair tax practices across Europe. The SwissLeaks scandal arrived just in time to add some extra spice to the issue and the 45 members have six months to come up with a report with legislative proposals to address tax fraud and evasion. The dispute over which type of committee would be best suited to their investigations has provided a timely reminder of how the EP’s grand coalition operates. While it was always in the EPP’s interests to defend Jean-Claude Juncker from embarrassing revelations, it has been the willingness of the Socialists and Liberals to resist their natural instincts and go along with them that has been a revelation. It has been President Schulz who has taken the flak for torpedoing the request from 192 MEPs for a more probing committee of inquiry.

The parliament’s protocol services have gone into overdrive as they prepare for two royal visits. Their Majesties the King and Queen of the Belgians will be doing a whistle-stop tour of the EU institutions on 25 February. Then His Majesty King Abdullah II of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan will address plenary in Strasbourg on 10 March. Hopefully all Members have been issued with their Debrett’s guide to royal etiquette which helpfully explains: ”Should you happen upon a royal during their time off, allow them the freedom to go about their business as an ordinary person. Assume that to royalty, being left alone is far from a slur; it is a luxury”. Oh how MEPs would love the same treatment!

Best wishes




Richard Steel

Senior Associate

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