I blogged recently about the parliament’s extraordinary decision to offer MEPs a financial inducement (or rather a penalty for absence) to attend Commission President Barroso’s “State of the Union” address this morning in Strasbourg. As I Tweeted earlier, they were treating MEPs rather like hired extras in a film set — there to make up a crowd scene.
The parliament’s “Conference of Presidents” was taken aback by the huge wave of contempt and derision that greeted their decision. Someone described it as “like a meeting of Brezhnev’s Soviet Duma” (only there the penalty was a life-time in Siberia). And not only from the usual suspects. Even that Goody-Two-Shoes europhile the Lib-Dem MEP Sarah (Baroness) Ludford was on record with her opposition. So at least the parliament had the good grace to climb down and withdraw the threat.
I went anyway. Barroso’s speech was a wonderfully rich tapestry of cliché and wishful thinking. Growth. Jobs. Progress. Economic renewal. Financial regulation. Freedom, Justice and Security. Competitiveness in the face of globalisation. European defence and security. A European Foreign Service. And an initiative to cut €38 billion from the cost of red-tape (don’t hold your breath!). As many speakers pointed out, this was about Barroso’s vision for the future, and very little to do with the State of the Union as it is today.
Then Joseph Daul, leader of the EPP Group, spoke. His constant theme was “The citizens are calling for more Europe!” (I don’t know which of the citizens he’s been speaking to — not one of my 4.2 million constituents has ever told me they want “More Europe”!). It was only last year that we Conservatives left the EPP, and I was thinking about how we might feel about Daul’s speech if we were still in the EPP’s maw.
The best speech came from Nigel Farage. While the “State of the Union” title was a clear attempt to ape the USA, Farage pointed out a key difference between Barroso and a US President — US presidents are elected by the people. And (argued Farage) the true state of the union is shown in the Commission’s own EU Barometer study, which demonstrates that confidence in the EU and its institutions has dropped dramatically over the last year, and that only 42% of citizens now regard membership of the EU as a good thing.
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