Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Europe’s Parliament

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 5th June, 2012

The European Parliament is little understood and in England, at least, much misrepresented. This is largely the fault of the British media, most of which either ignores or lampoons the institution. But many UK politicians — including some MEPs — share the blame. One expects UKIP to be misleading and nasty; after all, they want Britain out of the European Union (though I am sure the UKIP MEPs would be the first to bemoan their consequent loss of salary). But an alarming number of Tories also take part in the ritualistic slagging-off of the EU in general and the Parliament in particular. Three of the worst Conservative offenders in the last parliament, were Daniel Hannan (still there), Roger Helmer and Chris Heaton-Harris; they were apparently known to their fellow MEPs as “The H Block”. That is one of the myriad facts that even a longstanding observer of the European Parliament such as myself picked up from a new book: Europe’s Parliament (John Harper Publishing, £29), by Julian Priestley and Stephen Clark. Julian was an Oxford contemporary of mine, and our paths crossed again when I started covering the then appointed European Parliament in Strasbourg and Luxembourg for Reuters in 1974, when he was a junior official. He rose to become the Parliament’s Secretary General, and it is not difficult to work out which parts of this weighty but accessibly-written tome came from his pen. I particularly relished the description of Andrew Duff (LibDem MEP for the East of England) as an Ayatollah among the group of revolutionary constitutionalists. Inevitably the choice of personalities is somewhat subjective. Nigel Farrage, UKIP’s Leader, gets more than his fair share, whereas Sharon Bowles (the South East LibDem MEP who is sometimes rather grandly described as the most powerful women in European financial circles) doesn’t get a mention. The French and Germans not surprisingly receive full coverage, as they have been so key to the Parliament’s development. The early part of the book is largely about the three parliamentary sites and their buildings, which I fear will be red rag to the Eurosceptic bulls. Luxembourg now merely houses officials, but there is still a ridiculous and ridiculously expensive moving cricus of MEPs and hangers-on between Brussels and Strasboug each month, despite the valiant efforts of Edward McMillan-Scott and others to press for a Single Seat. That would, alas, require a Treaty change, which can only happen by unanimity; no prizes for guessing which country would block Strasbourg’s demise (though as Priestley and Clark point out, many Germans have a strong attachment to the Alsace city too. The book is probably too hefty to be of much direct use in schools, but certainly it will appeal to politics undergraduates, journalists and politicos, not least aspirant MEPs such as myself.

Link: www.johnharperpublishing.co.uk

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