We got the news last week that the parliament’s “Conference of Presidents” (Presidents are two-a-penny in the EU) has taken the extraordinary step of proposing to dock the expenses of any MEP who fails to attend Barroso’s big “State of the Union” speech on Tuesday in Strasbourg.
Imagine, if you will, Congress in Washington deciding it had to offer some kind of financial incentive to ensure Congressmen showing up to hear the real President’s State of the Union address, and you will see the absurdity immediately. This move is demeaning to the parliament and to MEPs, as though they were incapable of organising their time. It is still more demeaning to Barroso, since it is a confession that MEPs might have better things to do than to listen to his vapourings. I suspect that Barroso’s staff are furious at this publicity own-goal.
Now, it emerges, Barroso is planning to pay journalists’ expenses to accompany him on foreign trips to “raise his profile”. He is concerned that they don’t write enough about the EU and its Commission President. They don’t, but that’s for the excellent reason that their readers are not very interested in the EU and its doings, and a Barroso headline doesn’t sell papers.
This is in addition to the £6.6 million the EU has spent on “training” and “informing” journalists in the last year (with special emphasis on the Irish referendum). The Commission calls all this “communication”, by which they mean propaganda. For the Commission, communication isn’t phone bills. It’s Agitprop.
Apparently this is also in large part about the EU’s internal politics. Afraid of being upstaged by the President of the Council, Rumpy Pumpy, or even (some hope) by the self-effacing “Foreign Minister” Baroness Ashton, Barroso wants to build his personal profile. Looks like a big job.
I’m really not sure what to do on Tuesday. Check in and walk out? Stay but don’t press the button? I’m sure there will be one or two points of order made. Admittedly they’re talking a penalty for not attending, rather than an incentive to attend. But whichever way you approach it, it gets to look more and more like Thirty Pieces of Silver.