Postcard from Strasbourg by Richard Steel
One day we’ll stop talking about Brexit and wonder what all the fuss was about, but for the moment it’s the gift that just keeps giving. In a week laden with grown-up issues like copyright reform, collective redress and tax evasion, it was the Brexit debate that once again grabbed the headlines. While Brits may be wondering if their politicians are really up to the job (said with classic British under-statement), a champion has emerged to rally their cause. Donald Tusk may forever be remembered for his “special place in hell” comments, but in Strasbourg this week he came to the defence of the 1 million who marched in London for a People’s Vote and the 6 million and counting who are petitioning the government to revoke Article 50. The president of the European Council pointed out that these people were also Europeans who could not be “betrayed” by those who felt the UK taking part in the May elections was somehow “inconvenient”. If MPs were unwilling to support them then they should be able to count on this House. Tusk cemented his place in the heart of Remainers by turning on Nigel Farage and saying he was in fact the one who had pushed for a second referendum to overturn the will of the people. He gently reminded him that the first referendum took place in 1975 when the UK voted to take its rightful place in Europe. Guy Verhofstadt then stuck the proverbial boot in when he ridiculed Farage for being at the debate and not on the Leave march from Sunderland to London which he had organised. “How many miles did you do? Two? You remind me more and more of Field Marshall Haig in the comedy Blackadder, sitting safely in his London office- you in Strasbourg- while your people are walking in the cold and the rain”. The Hof is clearly an expert on British weather as well as BBC sit coms.
President Juncker lacks Donald Tusk’s way with words and wisely said “On Brexit, I will not say anything because everything has been said” before making some confusing comparison of the UK to a sphinx. He did however comment on the mini-summit on multilateralism with the Chinese President Xi where the united European front of Macron, Merkel and Juncker had told him that China was their strategic partner, competitor and rival. It turned out the Chinese did not like the term rival but Juncker assured him this was a “compliment” and the quicker they got on with an investment agreement, the better.
President Macron was swift to counter any rumblings in Germany about the Strasbourg seat being an “anachronism” as reported in the last Postcard. His “Renaissance” list for the elections contains two candidates from Strasbourg who will defend it to the hilt. The list is an eclectic mixture of people from all walks of life, including a wine grower, a round-the-world yachtswoman and a Greek gynaecologist. The name Guetta on the list probably set some young hearts pounding only to find out that it was not world famous DJ David Guetta but big brother and TV reporter Bernard. True to Macron’s wish to have trans-national lists, it also includes the co-founder of the Italian Partito Democratico, Sandro Gozi. The list is clearly designed to appeal to the green vote, with Pascal Canfin from WWF in 2nd place and Green MEP Pascal Durand adding his support. Tête de liste Nathalie Loiseau has also lost no time in playing up her green credentials by refusing to start trade talks with the US unless it re-joins the Paris climate agreement.