Postcard from Strasbourg by Richard Steel

Dear Fred,
The silly season came early to Strasbourg with the Juncker vs Tajani spat resembling a Punch and Judy show. “You’re ridiculous” claimed Juncker over the near-empty chamber for the Maltese presidency, “Oh no we’re not” replied Tajani, with a stomp of his foot and a rather childish reminder that we control you.

Juncker hit back with the jibe that there appeared to be only 30 Members present to control the Commission and ended by threatening to “never again attend a meeting of this kind”. Manfred Weber was left to try and repair the damage between the warring EPP presidents and in a rare criticism of Juncker, said it was not his job to lecture parliament. The heady days of the Juncker/Schulz love-in seem to be truly over and it’s hard to picture Juncker landing a big kiss on Tajani’s tousled head.

Juncker’s right-hand man, Martin Selmayr, had clearly caught the same bug, and had a dig at the failure of the parliament for the second year running to adopt a resolution on the 2018 work programme. “Second time they can’t agree on their wishes for the next work programme. A sign of strength?”. A furious Francoise Grossetete tweeted back (in English no less) “or simply the sign of a parliament which plays its role, is politically polarized and where democratic debate is still the rule”. Selmayr may have had a point though and the fact that only 70 MEPs ended up supporting the joint EPP, ECR and ALDE resolution points to some serious defects. The Socialists couldn’t hide their glee and Gianni Pittella was in poetic mode “What a disaster. The right-wing block melted like snow in the sun”. He claimed that the adoption of Socialist amendments on migration, trade and climate action, supported by progressive forces on the left, had proven that a right-wing coalition could never lead the parliament.

The next left/right showdown was over the controversial safeguard clause on country by country tax reporting, introduced at the last minute by the EPP and Liberals. The left claimed this created a huge loophole in the text and transparency NGOs took up the cause by setting up a fake tropical island opposite the parliament building with a banner reading “Welcome to Tropico island – sun, sand, no taxes”. Protesters could be seen sipping cocktails under a fake palm tree – or maybe that was MEPs who should have been following the Maltese presidency debate. A mandate was finally given to the two co-rapporteurs to start negotiations with the Estonian presidency but they could have a long wait given the current state of play in Council.

It was a week of comings and goings. Four new British MEPs replaced their colleagues elected to Westminster, including an author on ghosts and aliens and a guitarist for a “grungy, bluesy band, tunes played at volume”. They’ll feel right at home on Tropico island. Glenis Willmott, the leader of the Labour delegation, is also joining the rush for the exit door and has announced that she will stand down in October. The EPP meanwhile bid farewell to Herbert Reul and their trade spokesman, Daniel Caspary, takes over his role as head of the CDU/CSU delegation. The ECR decided to follow the Greens and Eurosceptics by having two co-chairmen, and the leader of the Polish Law and Justice delegation, Ryszard Legutko, will now team up with Syed Kamall to steer the self-labelled “eurorealist” group through the Brexit turmoil.

A debate on a single seat for the European Parliament managed to make its way onto the agenda but with no real change of heart between the opposing camps. The suggestion that the European Medicines Agency would be a suitable swap fell on deaf ears and President Tajani argued the parliament could not be bartered away. The debate sadly descended into claims and counter-claims of what Simone Veil or Helmut Kohl would have wanted. It was not only Juncker shaking his head thinking you are ridiculous.

Happy holidays,


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Richard Steel

Senior Associate

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