Postcard from Strasbourg by Richard Steel

Dear Fred,
The answer to Henry Kissinger’s age old question of who do I call when I want to call Europe has just got a whole lot easier. In one stroke of the pen, Jean-Claude Juncker has reduced the number of EU presidents from five to three,

merging the posts of president of the Commission and European Council and throwing in president of the Eurogroup to the job description of the future super Commissioner for the Economy and Finance. The suggestions may well prove too radical for national leaders to swallow, particularly on top of other perceived power grabs on reducing national vetoes on taxation and foreign policy. The likelihood of Donald Trump phoning any of the remaining three presidents still remains, I fear, fairly remote.

Martin Selmayr famously said that Jean-Claude Juncker would spend less than 30 minutes a week on Brexit – well that’s significantly more than the 1 minute that he devoted to the issue in his speech. Brexit was relegated to a brief aside towards the end of his State of the Union address and was described more in terms of sadness than anger, summed up by his dismissive call to move on as “Brexit isn’t everything”. And It didn’t get any better for Theresa May. You know your authority and respect have evaporated when the co-president of the Greens asserts that you are “out of your depth and reaching the edge of your skills”. Philippe Lamberts even sympathised with her decision to avoid a grilling in front of the whole plenary, agreeing that she had more to lose than gain and risked further weakening the UK’s position. Ouch. It’s still not clear when the British PM will address political leaders behind closed doors but at least she avoids Nigel Farage goading her in front of the cameras. Guy Verhofstadt couldn’t resist one last dig at the former UKIP leader, thanking him for trying to get the far-right AfD party to fight the German elections on the issue of Brexit. Yes EU citizens wanted to reform Europe, boomed the Hof, but destroy it “No bloody way”.

Beyond the lofty ideas set out in the State of the Union, MEPs were offered another opportunity to put their own house in order and adopt ambitious recommendations to improve transparency, integrity and public trust in their own work. While they were quite willing to see Commission officials down to the level of Head of Unit register all their meetings with outside interests, when it came to MEPs, it was restricted to rapporteurs, shadows and committee chairmen to declare their legislative footprint. The report, which has been floating around the parliament for over two years, was hijacked at the last minute by a series of EPP amendments designed to shine light on EU funding of NGOs. They argued that the EU should not be funding groups” that circulate fake news and fight European values”. The Left saw it as an Orban-style attack on the independence of NGOs and the amendments were rejected. However, this issue is likely to come back when the Court of Auditors publish a performance audit on the transparency of NGO funding.

One way to keep MEPs busy is to set up another special committee and the latest one is to look into shortcomings in the fight against terrorism and the failure of member states to share intelligence. It will be chaired by the French Liberal MEP and Macron supporter, Nathalie Griesbeck, who will hopefully survive longer in her post than her MoDem colleagues, Sylvie Goulard and Marielle de Sarnez, did in government.

It’s not often that fish fingers get a mention in the gastronomic city of Strasbourg, but Jean-Claude Juncker vowed that Slovakian children should have as much fish in their product as their neighbours. And who said the Commission was only big on the big things and small on the small ones?


Subscribe to the mailing list


Richard Steel

Senior Associate

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *