European Parliament Plenary Report: September
The return of the European Parliament to Strasbourg following the summer recess was once again dominated by the subject of Brexit which, in the
UK and Brussels at least, has been rumbling on like the weather in the Southern United States.
Prime Minister Mrs May faced criticism from MEPs for being “out of her depth” as the war of words intensified after she refused to cede to their demands to address them in Strasbourg. Instead she is expected to make a speech outlining her vision for Brexit some time this month in an
undisclosed EU country before holding a meeting with the Conference of Presidents later in the year.
EAF President Jane Collins MEP said she was not surprised by the decision Mrs May took, saying MEPs were “predominantly opposed to a good deal for Britain, based purely on political spite rather than sensible economics.”
“But of course given that MEPs will get to vote on the final Brexit deal it shines a light on the bigger issue: Last June we voted to leave fortress Europe and open our arms to the rest of the world. So why are we not doing that now and instead are tying ourselves in knots for an organisation which has no desire to compromise or negotiate?”
Jean Claude Juncker’s speech was the main focus of the week, unsurprisingly attracting more interest than debates on eggs and arms deals which plumped out the rather weak looking agenda.
Laying out the bloc’s plans for the next legislative session before departing early due to sciatic pain, the President boasted of trade agreements with Australia and New Zealand which he said would be started and finished before March 2019. Telling the mini legislators that the deals were about ‘exporting EU standards’ rather than improving efficiency and providing economic benefits to both sides, he perhaps unwittingly demonstrated that the delay with London is more about control than securing the right deal.
EU member states will also see the importance of their own Treasuries diminish as the Commission will welcome a new Vice-resident for Economic and Financial Affairs who will also hold the Presidency of the Eurogroup, in control of a Euroarea budget line within the overall EU budget. In effect this person will be the Chancellor of the Exchequer for the EU who will be able to “intervene” as and when he sees necessary.
The worst-kept secret in politics, the EU military, also took a significant step forward as it was announced there will be a full EU defence union by 2025. The militarised EU, with potentially a more aggressive foreign policy, will be a concern to many countries, including Ireland, who have made their national foreign policy one of neutrality. But any objections countries, perhaps other than France and Germany, might have, will be able to be silenced by the shift in voting from unanimity to Qualified Majority Voting.
He also called for a ‘European intelligence unit’ to coordinate data concerning terrorists and ‘foreign fighters’ which would automatically be shared amongst intelligence services and with the police. If he gets his way of a bloc with no internal borders and no currency but the Euro it can be argued that this step would be necessary as individual countries lose control.
The role of the European Public Prosecutor will increase, granted a mandate with prosecuting cross-border terrorist crimes as the inevitable consequences of the Schengen Area still continue to be felt in communities around the EU as porous internal borders continue to facilitate illegal trade, criminal gangs and terrorism.
Of particular significance to the EAF are the proposed rules on the financing of political parties which plan to use public money to promote the pro EU argument whilst removing support from eurosceptic organisations, despite public support for them.
Either unintentionally, or perhaps by design, the luxury salaried Mr Juncker said they “should not be filling the coffers of anti-European extremists,” adding, “We should be giving European parties the means to better organise themselves.” The consequences of this proposal would be very dangerous, taking on the methods of anti democratic regimes whereby the existing government controls which ideas are ‘permitted’. Adopting this Orwellian ‘newspeak’ would mean tax payers money flooding into groups who want to erode national self determination in Europe at the cost of organisations such as the European Alliance for Freedom.
At the end of August arch Europhile MP Guy Verhofstadt tweeted he was ‘delighted’ that ‘France has backed idea of trans-national EU lists’ after questioning what should happen to the UK MEP seats after Brexit.
This idea was picked up by Juncker, who said he had ‘sympathy’ for transnational lists for European Parliament elections, although he admitted that ‘more than a few you disagree’.
The proposal would strengthen again the pro EU parties and build up the profile of European Pan Political Parties and the groups within the European Parliament which are nowhere near as well known as domestic political parties. Claiming it would help make the European Parliament
‘more democratic’ the move would further erode the sense of national priorities which are still keenly felt in the European Parliament despite the drive for a sense of European Identity.
The need to strengthen democracy also has implications for the European Commission, he added, saying he was sending the European Parliament A NEW CODE OF CONDUCT FOR COMMISSIONERS. ‘The new Code first of all makes clear that Commissioners can be candidates in European Parliament elections under the same conditions as everyone else. The new Code will of course strengthen the integrity requirements for Commissioners both during and after their mandate.’
This move is an aim to remove the argument that the law makers in the European Union are not democratically elected by the people of Europe.
At the same time, there would be a new ‘super President’, merging the Presidents of the European Commission and the Council to further remove decision making based on national interests into an organisation whose motivation is the best interests of the EU.
But of course that debate only took up a few hours of the four days in Strasbourg, with the rest of the time filled up with votes and discussions on Turkey, fishing, ‘dieselgate’ and a common position on arms exports to name but a few.
MEPs filled the chamber in their tens to take part in a debate on the Fiprinol egg scandal, where an estimated 700,000 eggs possibly contaminated with the insecticide made their way onto Europe’s shelves. British MEP and poultry farmer Stuart Agnew condemned the discussion in the AGRI committee saying that there was no indication of the severity just because the product was prohibited. Questions were raised whether consumption of these eggs would lead to organ failure, or whether the amount of eggs needed to produce a severe reaction in humans would be more likely first to lead to constipation, the scandal has opened up a debate on the failings of the single market.
Meanwhile the Socialists and Democrats have announced they want to ‘close the never-ending story of Dieselgate’ urging the Commission and EU member states to implement the recommendations in the parliamentary inquiry into the measurement of emissions (EMIS).
MEP Christine Revault d'Allonnes Bonnefoy, S&D author of the final EMIS report, said:
“The Commission has started several infringement procedures, but the process is too slow and lacks legal certainty for the consumers. They have no guarantee that their cars will be properly fixed and many face a situation in which they have to pay their own repair bills. Call-back programmes are now voluntary, creating a patchwork of different national measures. Europe should make them mandatory and streamline them so that all Europeans are treated equally.”
The chamber also hosted a debate on fire regulations, where the subject of the Grenfell Tower tragedy was mentioned. When Grenfell Tower was
built the original cladding on the building was inert, meaning fire could not pass round or through. However since then specification regulations have moved from national authorities to become a European Union competence. With its focus on ‘green’ standards, the regulations from Brussels required a 20 per cent reduction in buildings like residential tower blocks under the 2020 energy policy. Questions have been raised regarding the potential use of combustible material in the cladding which was blamed for the way the fire spread and the large number of deaths.
The use of such materials is not limited to the UK: whilst Grenfell Tower will remain an investigation for the UK authorities, questions must be asked and lessons learned which can decide whether EU regulation led to the deaths of residents and what changes need to happen to stop anything like this happening in other EU countries.
And on that sad note, that is it for the Strasbourg round up for September. We’re back twice in October, including a special bumper budget edition.