Just when you thought that the European Union was wobbling and on its back feet, its elected acolytes of shame – its own Members – are getting to grips, which is what is really important for the EU project to stay “sexy,” as its despondent new boss spluttered recently. No, they are not taking afternoon naps in their offices with their buxom bombshell assistants (although they can, as each one of the 736 MEP offices has a chaise-longue as a standard installation), but something much more important, during these difficult days. But can you guess, dear reader?
Crushing mighty Iran and its nuclear program? Playing a key role in the Middle East road map thingy? Creating jobs and growth in Europe? None of the above? What about saving the euro then, or helping European farmers buy new Range Rovers? In fact, much more important than all that, the European parliament is about to move. I know. It’s not exactly exciting stuff next to news about phone tapping or Kat Deluna’s latest pop video (to top the near brilliant “Party O’clock,” if I may add) and it’s probably not going to get any racial hatred spewing into the comment boxes below.
But let me have a go anyway.
Press-room wasters in Brussels tell me, in between consuming the statutory, if not industrial quantities of cooking lager, that a majority of MEPs now support scrapping Strasbourg as one of parliament’s official seats, according to a new paper. The report, published in the parliament just before the MEPs broke up for the summer also says one of two most favored options for the assembly’s buildings in the Alsace city is a “university of Europe.”
Perhaps I should draw breath now and bring you up to speed on really important stuff, in case you’re one of those strange people who Romano Prodi (former European Commission president, oh do keep up) calls the “disconnected.” The European parliament is a sort of freak show of the EU, with apparently elected MPs debating the key issues going through the regulatory mill. Their main building for voting is in Strasbourg, but in between a dozen sessions a year they work most of the time in their “Brussels office” which is also a parliament building – where, yes, you’ve guessed it, they also vote in mini plenaries and occasionally attend committee meetings. It’s also where their impossibly beautiful assistants work and live (Brussels obviously offering better beauty treatment centers and superior restaurants).
In addition to Brussels, there is also a parliament in Luxembourg. But no one seems to know what this is for, so it’s not talked about in Brussels amongst Euro-folk in the same way you wouldn’t talk about an uncle who was done for kiddy fiddling. We’ll tackle other no-go subjects in Brussels in a later dispatch.
Anyway, it looks like the aggregated whining of leagues of Euro-MPs has finally pulled it off. When they re-sit at the end of August, we’ll see the “common-sense” options of what to do with the Strasbourg building. Although “common sense” is as rare as rocking-horse droppings round these parts….
Just look at the history of the European parliament. The EP is the only assembly in the world that cannot decide where it sits. Instead, it is forced by treaty to hold 12 sessions a year in Strasbourg. Some 12 times a year, the 736 MEPs and well over 3,000 staff and officials make the 850-kilometer round-trip. They stay for just four days in a building, which a study showed cost taxpayers across Europe €457 million (around $800 million) and sits unused for more than 300 days of the year.
In a report published earlier in the year called “A Tale of Two Cities” (yawn), it was found that the requirement to meet in Strasbourg costs €200m annually. Every time the EP relocates from Brussels to Strasbourg, public money is needlessly wasted, the report thundered. At a time when national governments are making difficult decisions on where to cut budgets, maintaining two seats is a bad joke, claimed one angry British MEP who backed the study.
Perhaps more importantly the environmental impact should also be considered, as the monthly relocation churns out at least 20,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide each year, a minor detail that has not deterred MEPs from debating CO2 emission legislation with straight faces.
Edward MacMillan-Scott MEP was quite jubilant about the vote which secured the route that the EU is now taking with its own parliament and where to stick it. The former Vice President of the institution, though, is losing his touch with the media. Or is he mocking us all with his sarcasm, when he recently spoke of the majority vote by MEPs to abandon the Strasbourg building? “This, I believe, is the most important vote in the history of parliament.” Our Eddy, who is a slightly older version of US congressman Charlie Wilson (certainly when it comes to a high turn-over of office babes and a glorious appreciation of Scotch Whisky) is having a laugh, surely? I haven’t laughed so much in Brussels since a colleague of Eddy’s, Tom Spencer, was caught travelling with a bag full of gay sex accessories at the airport, or when Nirj Deva (also British) spammed journalists with a press release from Sri Lanka during the tsunami assuring all his friends he was alive and well.
But, like most things in Brussels, you can’t get far without hitting another tricky butt-plug: the “French Exception,” as our Gaullist friends always seem to be at the heart of all gridlocks on the landscape due to their special needs. Since 1979, members of the European parliament met in Strasbourg as, wait for it, the French demanded that the bastion of European democracy had its location on French soil. Yeah, that’s right. Bed-wetting from Europe’s infamous brats, otherwise known as cheese-eating surrender monkeys, or even, simply The French, caused this monumental foul-up in the first place.
This is in line with previous “French exception” handouts from Brussels – conveniently including all of France’s dependent territories as part of France (and therefore able to sap EU structural funds from Brussels paid for by the rest of us). Think higher-than-the-rest-of-the-EU payments made to French farmers as part of the EU’s 50 billion euro agricultural bung, for example. Bottom line, it’s all about the French feeling insecure.
But why should Europe always pay out for that? Would you expect the rest of Europe to put their hands in their pockets and shell out for the British to keep their relations with their former colonies? Or, for that matter, for the Germans to be orderly and make decent machinery? The French have always been insecure about themselves.
But wait. News just in. French government launches legal case against the European parliament for wanting to vacate its Strasbourg location. Oh, putain de merde, c’est pas vrai! Nurse! Surely it’s time for my syringe!
Martin Jay is a veteran foreign correspondent who has worked extensively in Europe, the Middle East and Africa for most major international TV networks. He can be reached at email@example.com for insults, general comments and racist bed-wetting from those who don’t have the intellectual bandwidth to even understand what an “opinion” or “blog” article is supposed to be.