Postcard from Strasbourg by Richard Steel

Postcard from Strasbourg

Dear Fred,
It’s Eurovision time again, that wonderfully kitsch moment when Europe comes together in a way the Founding Fathers can only have dreamed about. Or is this song contest more the loose vision of European co-operation that Brexiteers have in mind?

Cue the Greens, who must get nul points for this off-key cover version of “I want to break free” as part of their campaign to “break free” from fossil fuels – it shows Claude Turmes like you have never seen him before!
The Alliance for Peace and Freedom sounds the sort of warm, fuzzy movement that Eurovision would endorse, so who would have guessed that it’s in fact the front organisation for some of the most nasty far-right organisations to get their hands on Euro-money. Political group leaders have decided it’s time to see if the pan-European group respects basic EU principles and eligible for EU funding. The APF includes the Greek Golden Dawn and was set up by Nick Griffin, former MEP for the BNP and now leader of the BUP, not to be confused with the BDP. This all sounds too reminiscent of Monty Python’s Life of Brian, mixing up the People’s Front of Judea with the Judean People’s Front. Splitters! One look at their website calling for an end to Russophobia suggest that they may have other sources of funding than the EU’s coffers.

It was a bad week for China. Firstly the Queen dropped her guard and was overheard criticising Chinese officials for being “very rude” during the state visit last October. Then MEPs had the temerity of refusing to grant them market economy status until they have fulfilled the EU’s five criteria. Mindful of the billions being invested by China, Members were still keen to play up the importance of the EU partnership with their second biggest trading partner. EPP trade spokesman Daniel Caspary put it thus: “ The strategic partnership with China is extremely important to us, regardless of whether China is considered to have a market economy, or not, because it obviously doesn’t”.

Being rude about China still doesn’t carry quite the same repercussions as insulting President Erdogan of Turkey, as the German satirist Jan Böhmermann has found out to his cost. Guy Verhofstadt’s diplomatic solution to the crisis was to invite all the journalists in Strasbourg to join him in following the example of the chief executive of the Axel Springer group and laugh out loud at the poem and challenge the Turkish president to prosecute them all. Surprisingly few volunteers seem to have risen to the challenge.

The drive to internalise as many services in the parliament as possible seems to have no limits. Last month I reported on how the drivers’ service was to be brought in-house on the grounds of security and this month news emerges that the gym instructors are now set to become official staff. According to the internal memo leaked to the press, Members were frustrated that contractual difficulties with the outside contractors were restricting access to the fitness centre but were then reassured that “ the beautician and osteopath have resumed their services”. Phew! Maybe cancelling the drivers’ service and encouraging our elected representatives to walk would solve both problems?



Richard Steel

Senior Associate

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