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You only need one word to get a Eurosceptic going: Strasbourg. After that you will have an extra 5 minutes of conversation time and a good lecture on a basic business concept: cost-cutting.
Every month the European Parliament travels from Brussels to Strasbourg for their plenary session (twice in September). Each parade costs around €4 million.
But this circus display may soon come to a halt. In email discussions uncovered this week by The Lobby, it was revealed that many MEPs have written to Messrs Van Rompuy and Sarkozy, arguing to keep Brussels as the sole permanent seat for the Parliament to save tax-payers’ money during these times of financial crisis.
But apparently to some there are more important things than taxpayers’ money. On the opposing side, other MEPs claim that Strasbourg represents the birthplace of today’s European Union, is a symbol of Franco-German reconciliation, and a city that lies at the cross-roads of Europe.
For them, Strasbourg should actually be the seat of the Parliament as it increases the separation of the EU’s executive, judicial and legislative powers, would be cheaper than Brussels, and it is in France, a country that apparently “promotes the progress of Europe”.
Those are all romantic arguments, but the political reality is that the Parliament will continue to make those monthly trips to Strasbourg for the simple reason that it is not up to MEPs to decide where they meet, nor even Mr Van Rompuy, but the Council. Step forward France, a country that is about as unlikely to cede the Strasbourg seat as the UK will give up Gibraltar.
So MEPs can moan, complain, and argue, but ultimately only one man can put a stop to this farce, and he is ensconsed in the Elysée Palace. Good luck with that one.
Over the last week, French citizens have experienced long queues for fuel at petrol stations across the country. This follows an announcement made by Total, the French oil company, concerning plans to close a refinery in Dunkirk, which led to Total’s workers deciding to go on an unlimited strike to protest in solidarity with the workers of Dunkirk.
Since then, French drivers, fearing a petrol shortage, have been dashing to the petrol stations, leading to endless queues, creating scenes similar to that of the two worldwide oil crises back in the 1970s.
Then, the story took on a national dimension when President Sarkozy invited Christophe de Margerie, CEO of Total, to the Elysée Palace to discuss the future of Dunkirk’s refinery.
In all honesty the scenario of a shortage is unlikely to happen as all trade unions, with the exception of one, called yesterday for the end of the strike after Total announced that activity will be maintained in Dunkirk for the next 5 years.
Once again, Europe’s TOTAL dependence on petrol is there for all to see!
While the thermometer reads 37 degrees in Brussels, the political temperature in the European Parliament is set to rise with MEPs heading towards the end of the summer recess. While the rate of activity of the Parliament is still slow, The Lobby looks back to the allocation of top positions in the European Parliament and the subsequent changes within the largest national delegations.
At first glance, it may seem that France has lost influence, the Brits have managed to secure control of some important committees, and that Italy is the big winner. What strikes us most however is the dominance of the Germans.
To summarise: France has four chairs, but of these only the Budgets Committee could be said to be influential. Italians and Germans have five Chairs and the Brits three. Germans obtained the most influential posts, such as the Environment and the Industry Committees. The Brits will control heavyweight committees such as Economy and Monetary Affairs and the Internal Market. Italy obtained the prestigious post of Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Agriculture Committee, which will be responsible for the reform of the Common Agriculture Policy when/if the Lisbon Treaty will be adopted.
For the first time there will be no French MEPs among the fourteen Vice-Presidents of the European Parliament, who are responsible for laying down the institution’s rules – will this have an impact on the disputed future of the Strasbourg Parliament? Among the 14 Vice-Presidents, there will be three Germans, two Brits, and two Italians.
This picture would not be complete without looking at the coordinators of the main political groups, who play a key role in shaping opinions as they coordinate the work of their political groups within the different Committees. Among the coordinators appointed so far by the EPP and ALDE (we await the other groups), German MEPs are dominant, while the French are still lagging behind. Since they divorced from the EPP, British MEPs are expected to have a high number of coordinators in the new Conservative group (ECR), but their actual influence will depend on whether the new group will be able to become a forceful player in the new Parliament.
Looking at the largest political group (EPP), France has one MEP coordinating the group in the Economic & Monetary Affairs Committee and one as Vice-Coordinator in the Industry Committee. Italians will coordinate minor committees such as Fisheries and Culture and will have a Vice-Coordinator in the Environment Committee. What is striking again is that German EPP MEPs grabbed the positions of coordinator in three key committees: Environment, Internal Market and Agriculture. The situation is more balanced in the ALDE group, in which Sweden has a coordinating role in the Industry committee, France the Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee, and the UK the Environment Committee.
During the past legislature Germany and the UK had 27 and 23 MEPs respectively acting as coordinators in the Parliament, whereas France had just eight. The puzzle is not sufficiently complete for the moment to make comparisons as we wait for the S&D to appoint its coordinators in September. In addition, the appointment of future Rapporteurs will tell us how much influence the national delegations really have.
For the moment though, it seems the Germans are the clear winners of the horse-trading for key posts and have already secured a 2.5 year Presidency of the Parliament in the form of S&D President Martin Schulz as of mid-2011. But where are the French? Assessing French influence by looking only at these figures would be simplistic, but the facts show that the French are currently under-represented in the Parliament. The same is actually true in the Commission, where they have fewer Director Generals than the Germans or British. Is it just a lack of interest in the institutions, or is it part of a long-term strategy that seems content to leave the parliamentary positions to the other countries and claim in return more influential positions in the Commission? Are the French holding out for the President of the EU or the High Representative for Foreign Affairs, should Lisbon fully be ratified? All open questions…
A French Farmer Activist. For those of you who are not French, this may sound like tautology, but the French farmer activist who The Lobby would like to draw your attention to is the controversial José Bové, elected in France on the green ticket. No doubt he shares most of the political beliefs of the other Green MEPs – anti ‘malbouffe’ (junk food), anti-GMOs, anti-nuclear, pro consumers, pro organic, pro environment. But away from ‘HOME’ one wonders if José will not feel like a fish out of water sitting in the European Parliament!
Firstly, Monsieur Bové is no great EU supporter, as proved by his campaign for the “No” vote in the French referendum on the EU Constitution in 2005. What’s more, he is the “salt of the earth”, a man ready to fight – literally! – for his convictions. His track record is impressive: deported by the Israeli police for leading a protest in the West Bank, a former member of the anarchist organisation Alternative Libertaire, sentenced for having destroyed documents belonging to the French Army, sentenced for the destruction of several transgenic plants, and declared “ineligible” to enter the US as a result of being prosecuted for “moral crimes”.
But the most famous event which brought Monsieur Bové to everyone’s attention was the dismantling of a McDonald’s franchise in 1999. So who knows what will happen to the Parliament now that Brussels is his new playground!