Postcard from Strasbourg by Richard Steel

Postcard from Strasbourg

Dear Fred,
The Oxford dictionaries’ word of the year is “post-truth”, narrowly beating popular new additions to the English language such as Brexiteer and the Danish word hygge denoting a feeling of contentment and well-being. There would have been a good deal of hygge among the 48% who voted to Remain if a foreign

word had topped the poll.  The judges defined post-truth as circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion, with Brexit and the Trump victory propelling the word into everyday usage. These two phenomena merge in the larger-than-life figure of Nigel Farage who continues to dominate headlines in whatever country he’s in, although he apparently didn’t take kindly to being called Mr Ambassador by colleagues this week. The ever-mischievous Guy Verhofstadt tweeted “Trump wants to take over Her Majesty’s role in appointing the British US Ambassador. Is that taking back control?”.

Farage was not on the to-meet list of Brexit Minister David Davis as he jetted into Strasbourg for a few hours on Tuesday to make first contact with key MEPs, with all sides falling over themselves to stress that these were not negotiations. Davis and Verhofstadt, the parliament’s lead man on Brexit, seemed to get on rather well, sharing a joke about “welcome to hell”. The photo of his meeting with a stony-faced Manfred Weber told another story and the EPP leader was in no mood to joke when he complained Davis had brought nothing new to the table. The diplomatic dance that Davis will have to perform to keep the parliament happy was illustrated by the key people he was criticised for not meeting, including the President, the leader of the Socialists and chairman of the relevant committee.

Meeting Schulz might have proved tricky anyway as he clearly had other things on his mind. The political bombshell that he wouldn’t stand for a third term seemed to take everyone by surprise, not least his Socialist colleagues who were apparently given no advance warning. Even on Tuesday Gianni Pittella was holding firm to the view that Schulz had their full support for a third term. His departure puts the whole grand coalition into doubt, not just because of the institutional imbalance of having the three EU presidencies held by the EPP, but because there doesn’t seem to be anyone else in the Socialist group to knock heads together quite like Schulz. If the EPP do assume the EP presidency in January, the Socialists will need to decide what pound of flesh they want in return. Manfred Weber is being tight lipped about his own possible ambitions for the presidency and his talk of a consensus candidate against the populists and extremists may give a glimmer of hope to those pushing for a Liberal candidate. Although their numbers in the parliament are reduced, they actually outnumber EPP leaders in the European Council. This saga has still some mileage in it and Schulz’s departure could have more long-term implications than currently imagined.

At least there is the comforting thought that Mutti has decided to stand again in the German elections; but Nicolas Sarkozy’s surprise defeat in the French primaries denies us any return to the Merkozy glory days. With Francois Fillon poised to be the centre-right candidate will we instead look to MerFi or Frangela?

Spare a thought for the Franco-Swiss film “Ma vie de courgette” which narrowly lost out to “Toni Edrmann” as the winner of the 10th LUX film prize. I’m informed this has nothing to do with a fondness for vegetables but is about how a nine-year old orphan boy learns trust, and finds love and finally a family of his own. Very hygge.




Richard Steel

Senior Associate

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