Postcard from Strasbourg by Richard Steel

Dear Fred,
The Dalai Lama was back in the European Parliament this week preaching a message of inner peace, compassion, love, forgiveness and self-discipline, qualities that were sadly in short supply in a hot and sticky Strasbourg. This was his fifth visit and he used the occasion to speak of his admiration for the “spirit of the EU”, which he felt should spread to Africa and beyond. Maybe he would have been better off being in Bratislava today where the spirit of the EU will be tested as never before as 27 leaders indulge in some post Brexit soul-searching.

There was certainly not much inner-peace among the UKIP ranks, who basically accused British Commissioner, Sir Julian King, of being a traitor in swearing the oath of allegiance to serve the European interest rather than acting as an emissary of Her Majesty’s government. “You cannot serve two masters” brayed Gerald Batten. Sir Julien’s credentials among the British tabloids will have taken a further bashing when he was praised by Martin Schulz for being a committed European.

Forgiveness was also lacking in a week where everyone seemed to have an opinion about former President Barroso’s new role at Goldman Sachs. His successor really seemed to twist the knife when he replied to the European Ombudsman that Barroso would be received in the Commission not as a former President “but as an interest representative’ under the same rules as any other lobbyist. Barroso’s influence was clearly more insidious than anyone suspected as the long-awaited report by Sven Giegold on lobbying and transparency, including provisions to try and restrict the unseemly rush to the revolving-door, was mysteriously postponed at the last minute. The delay however has not prevented the EP’s Bureau already acting on one of the other key demands in the Giegold report, namely a legislative footprint listing who has tried to influence the rapporteur in the course of their work. While this starts off as a voluntary measure it will become harder and harder for rapporteurs to resist the demand for greater transparency. Lobbyists will no doubt be desperate to be listed to show off their influence.

Self-discipline has never been the characteristic of MEPs from such diverse backgrounds and so the bonds holding the grand coalition together are beginning to fray. Socialists from the left of the party are clearly feeling the heat of being too cosy with the EPP and looking to put some daylight between them on economic and social policy. However it is the great Schulz question that risks creating a parting of the ways. Martin Schulz is already in unchartered water being the first parliament President to be re-elected. The EPP want the deal honoured that the post would pass to one of their own in January 2017 and more and more names are circulating. Early runners like Alain Lamassoure and Antonio Tajani are now being joined by Mairead McGuinness and Francoise Grossetete and a female President is long overdue, with Nicole Fontaine holding the post back in the last century. The Socialists argue, with some reason, that the EPP cannot hold all three presidencies of the EU institutions, which of course begs the question of which leader could be removed. Donald Tusk needs to be re-elected as President of the European Council by mid-2017, so could a Socialist replace him? The problem today is the same as in 2014, there just aren’t many former Socialist Prime Ministers on the market. That of course could soon change. The wrong result in the Italian referendum on constitutional reform could see Matteo Renzi fulfil his promise and resign and Francois Hollande may well be looking for new opportunities by May 2017.The scramble for top seats is well and truly on.



Richard Steel

Senior Associate

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