Postcard from Strasbourg by Richard Steel
They say life begins at 40 – but not if you’re some young, hip-hopping MEP who belongs to the uber cool eu40 group and wants to get down with the kids.
While most members will be flying home today, exhausted, our dedicated band of MEPs aged under 40 will be just warming up, ready to welcome over 8000 young people to the European Youth Event (EYE) in Strasbourg.And to prove just how far they will go to mobilise the youth vote next summer, five MEPs are ready to rap for Europe, teamed up with their very own professional freestyle hip hop artist with edgy names like MC Angel and Dekay. Move over rapporteurs, make way for the rappers.
At least the EYE event will make an impact, which is more than can be said for the Zuckerberg hearing, which was still being talked about as a huge missed opportunity for the parliament. The group leaders must now be wishing they hadn’t fought so hard for it to be made public as the format of bunching questions into a hour-long list, leaving no time for answers, was a text-book example of how not to put a speaker on the spot. MEPs dream of mirroring Congressional hearings but the only event that even comes close to a proper grilling are the inauguration hearings for Commissioners. The Greens are in despair at what they perceive as the parliament’s growing lack of bite, citing the decision by the big groups not have a resolution following this week’s debate on US steel and aluminium tariffs or to even hold a debate on the US pulling out of the Iran deal.
Relations between Presidents Juncker and Tajani took another turn for the worse, with Tajani saying it was totally unacceptable for Juncker to tell Italians to work harder, be less corrupt and stop looking to Brussels to rescue the country’s poor regions. In his final year in office I think we can expect to hear more and more blunt statements from Juncker and surely it can’t be long before we see him tweeting his innermost thoughts at 4am in true Trump style. The normally mild-mannered new leader of the Socialists, Udo Bullmann, was in no mood to mince his words about the prospects of the future Italian government, warning that their “cheap talk” about ripping up the rules of the Eurozone would not hurt the rich, who would secret their funds away to Swiss banks, but it would be the pensioner and worker who would suffer. Fake news, he argued, had led to Brexit and could cause irreparable damage to Italy.
Fake news now seems to have been surpassed by fake death and MEPs struggled to understand the reasons why Russian journalist Arkady Babchenko, a recent visitor to the parliament, should stage his own assassination. This sort of thing only happens to Sean Connery as James Bond in You Only Live Twice. Czech EPP MEP, Jaromir Stetina, a former war correspondent, was critical of the Czech authorities refusing to give permanent residency to critics of Putin and said the case drew attention to the more than 100 journalists murdered since 2000. It was therefore fitting that the murdered Slovak journalist Jan Kuciak and Luxleaks whistleblower Raphael Halet were named as the first recipients of the inaugural GUE award for “journalists, whistleblowers and defenders of the right to information”.
The week ended with the House united behind the Commission’s response to the imposition of US tariffs and the real danger of a trade war. Guy Verhofstadt, no longer under 40 but still good with words and never shy of taking centre stage, could have rapped his promise that if there is a trade war “we have to be behind the German industry, even the German cars”.