The European Parliament

The reality is even worse than the caricature

I was selected to run the 5000 metres for Great Britain Veterans (aged 35 and over) in an athletics match against the veterans of Belgium and France in the Belgian town of Tournai on 23rd. June 2007. When making the travel arrangements I decided that, as I was going to Belgium, I would spend the following two days sightseeing in Brussels.

I e-mailed my local U.K. Independence Party M.E.P., Tom Wise, to ask whether a visit to the European Parliament would be worthwhile. I expected to receive a reply from an office assistant telling me the opening times of the visitor centre, or advising me that I would find better things to do with my time in Brussels. I actually received a prompt reply from Mr. Wise himself, offering to meet me at the European Parliament at 2 p.m. on Monday 25th. June. This was too good an invitation to refuse.

The European Parliament Buildings are a collection of enormous glass fronted monstrosities without, and a confusing warren within. I am told that there are MEPs who have been there for years and still do not know their way around. I can well believe it.

I entered the parliament through the Altiero Spinelli Building, named after an Italian communist, collected my visitors' pass and met Mr. Wise. He showed me to his new office, in an unfinished building and introduced me to his researcher, Gary Cartwright. Much of their office equipment and paperwork was still in boxes as the relocation had been made during the previous week, when most MEPs and their staff were in Strasbourg! The furniture does not fit as intended. It is best not to lean back when sitting on the toilet in their en-suite bathroom, as this presses the flush button.

Just as we were preparing to go to a committee meeting, a charming gentleman named Fouad popped in to ask whether the shower head had been installed. It had not. It is a good idea to get one's priorities right. Also one's plumbing.

At 3:15 p.m. we attended a meeting of the Committee on Culture and Education chaired by Mr. Sifunakis, who is Greek. Simultaneous translation of the proceedings was provided via headphones in fourteen languages. I admired the skill of the interpreters, who can listen to one language while at the same time speaking in another. Sadly, the proceedings which followed were an insult to their abilities.

Fourteen languages was evidently not enough for one Portuguese M.E.P., who insisted that he was entitled to interpretation in his language while demonstrating that he could argue his case in fluent French. For some obscure reason, Portuguese alternates with Danish, and was not available on this day. Having failed to obtain satisfaction, our Portuguese man o' war walked out.

The committee was then addressed by the Vice-President of the European Commission, Margot Wallström. She is Swedish but spoke in English. I cannot include a summary of her speech, as summarising involves picking out the pertinent points. She made none. Her speech was an exercise in using many words to say nothing.

It appeared that very few of those present at the meeting were listening. MEPs talked with their researchers, and people came and went as they pleased while others were speaking.

One MEP said how much he had wanted to hear Mrs. Wallström's speech. He was sorry he had arrived late, but was not responsible for flight delays ... and went on in the same vein. Had I made a speech like that when I was a town councillor, I would have been reprimanded by the mayor for wasting my colleagues' time.

Mr. Wise then decided to give me the "Cooks Tour" of the Parliament. In the Paul Henri Spaak building, we noticed that the buttons in the lift indicated that there are thirteen floors numbered from one to twelve, but include a Floor Five and a Half. Mr. Wise likened this to Platform Nine and a Half at Kings Cross Station, from where Harry Potter catches the train to Hogwarts Academy.

On the top floor, we visited a staff dining room, which affords a fine view of Brussels. The President of the Parliament has a dining room of similarly impressive size all to himself, but on the other side of the PHS building. We also saw the "Mickey Mouse" bar, nicknamed after the chairs, which appear to have Mickey Mouse's ears as well as brightly-coloured covers. Alcohol is served here from 8 a.m. to 2 a.m.

There are two sculptures, one of which bears a passing resemblance to a horse with a stellated icosahedron (or a lumpen star) attached to its rump. The other is an indescribable conglomeration of lengthy metal strips hanging down in an atrium. Either could be entitled, "More money than sense".

We entered the Hemicycle: the European Parliament's main debating chamber, where the Environment Committee was in session. A similarly inattentive audience was not listening to a similarly meaningless speech. At the back there were piles of unused agendas, little smaller than telephone directories, in all the official languages.

The whole circus makes the journey to Strasbourg for one week each month, and then returns. Ninety lorries make the return journey carrying paperwork and belongings.

There followed coffee and discussion with Mr. Cartwright, Fiona Wise (no relation to Tom) and other U.K.I.P. researchers. I then returned to the meeting of the Committee on Culture and Education for more enlightening debate, or "Structured dialogue", as the agenda called it. An MEP complained about the low turnout in European Parliamentary Elections, and blamed it on the public perception that the European Parliament spends much of its time regulating such matters as the curvature of cucumbers. If only the European Parliament were so harmless.

I think the European Parliament would have a great future as a language school. There is a huge amount of linguistic expertise already in place. The committee rooms could easily be converted into lecture theatres. The offices would make suitable study bedrooms for the students. The opening hours of the Mickey Mouse bar might have to be curtailed.

The European Parliament in its present form is an undemocratic, farcical form of government to which the British public has never consented. It is also a horrendous waste of taxpayers' money. Yet it makes over seventy percent of Britain's laws - a figure which keeps rising as the British government gives away ever more of Britain's sovereignty to the European Union.

Britain must rid itself of the European Parliament by leaving the European Union as soon as possible.

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Copyright © 2007 - Ian Johnston
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E-mail ijjohnston@totalise.co.uk