Postcard from Strasbourg by Richard Steel

Postcard from Strasbourg

Dear Fred,

The mood was sombre and the set-piece speeches fittingly defiant but it didn’t take much to scratch under the surface to find good old-fashioned politicking at work. It’s hardly surprising given that the security versus liberty debate has highlighted the ideological divide in the Parliament more than almost any other issue.

The EPP welcomed the French Interior Minister’s appeal for action on passenger records (PNR) and politely suggested he maybe focus on his own Socialist colleagues who were dragging their heels. The EPP spokesman on the Civil Liberties Committee, Bavarian MEP Monika Hohlmeier, maybe went a bit too far when she issued a press release claiming “terrorists would gleefully vote Left”  given their obstruction of tougher security laws. The text was accompanied by a photo of a bloody hand with two spent bullet cases. This was quickly changed to a more neutral, blurred photo of passengers at an airport before the whole thing was pulled from the EPP website following howls of protest from the Left.

Accusations of back-stabbing and shady backroom deals on the extension of the tax inquiry committee risked masking the consensus reached on the special committee’s report adopted this week. The Greens claimed they had been given cast-iron assurances from the big groups that they would support a six month extension of the life of the committee only to find they had not been invited to a late night meeting to discuss how to limit the mandate of the new body. The finger was clearly pointed at the President, who they have taken to calling “King Martin” for his authoritarian ways. That should maybe be Emperor Martin if he succeeds in getting his third term as President. The claim is that Schulz is protecting his buddy Jean-Claude Juncker and Green leader Philippe Lamberts claimed that Schulz had once told him there was no such thing as the grand coalition, only the “Juncker-Schulz” coalition. All those televised Spitzenkandidat debates clearly forged a special bond. If TAXE II turns out to be a damp squib with no investigative powers then there’s always the possibility of DIESEL I. This time the Socialists have backed up the Greens in calling for a full blown committee of inquiry into what the Commission did or did not know about VW and cheat devices. Given that the target is former Industry Commissioner Antonio Tajani, a potential EPP pretender to Schulz’s throne, it’s unlikely that the EPP will want to play ball.

King Martin also took on the role of Oscar host as he announced the Franco-Turkish film Mustang was the winner of the Parliament’s LUX prize for cinema. Without spoiling the ending for those of you planning to take advantage of the fact the film will now be subtitled into all 24 official languages, Mustang tells the story of five sisters who have been promised to husbands through forced marriage but who are determined to break the yoke of tradition and live their own lives. The director, Deniz Gamze Erguven, claimed to have taken inspiration from Escape from Alcatraz in exploring the desire for freedom. That may be the first tribute to King Clint in the hemicycle.

Martin Schulz’s final act of a busy week was to sign the 2016 budget, where the Parliament has succeeded in pushing through extra funds for migration, refugees, students and research. Brexit watchers will be twitching at the news that several speakers in the debate want the EU’s Multiannual Financial Framework to be revised in light of recent events. It was exactly this time last year that David Cameron claimed victory in forcing through the first ever reduction of the EU budget. Another of Europe’s less enthusiastic members was also in the firing line following the new Polish government’s decision not to fly the EU flag. Guy Verhofstadt tweeted “So you don’t want the flag, but you still want the EU money?”. I imagine the reply was tak!





Richard Steel

Senior Associate

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