The case for ‘Lexit’

It is not just the populist right who clash ideologically with the European Union.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn

In 2013, a senior Conservative politician was overheard referring to Eurosceptic activists as “swivel-eyed loons.” Intended as a disparaging remark, some traditionalists wore the label proudly. Michael Fabricant, the party’s former vice-chairman, uploaded a picture of the late bulbous-eyed comedian, Marty Feldman, as his Twitter avatar.

The comments came after 116 Tory MPs defied the ex-Prime Minister, David Cameron, by voting for an amendment to protest his lack commitment to a referendum on EU membership before 2015. Those on the right of the Conservative party were appalled by the delay.

Hard Brexiteers continue to be stereotyped as demented, frothy-mouthed, “swivel-eyed” monsters. Earlier this month, the Telegraph reported that climate change minister, Claire Perry, had used the term in a group WhatsApp conversation with other Tory MPs.

But often overlooked is euroscepticism on the left – with Labour Leader, Jeremy Corbyn providing an obvious starting point.

Corbyn voted to leave the EEC in the 1975 referendum and has railed against European institutions consistently since becoming an MP in 1983. In parliament, he voted against the 1993 Maastricht Treaty and the 2008 Lisbon Treaty.

During the run-up to the 2016 referendum, the Labour leader was lukewarm in his support of remain. In one chat-show appearance, Corbyn claimed to be “seven out of ten” on the EU, and was conspicuously absent throughout the Brexit campaigning period.

Corbyn is not isolated amongst left-wing intellectuals over the question of the Europe. The New Left Review, one of the most influential political science journals in the world, had been hankering for ‘Lexit’, a handy – if a little ungainly – neologism of ‘left wing’ and ‘Brexit’, for some time.

The journal’s former editor, Perry Anderson, argued that the EU was an authoritarian and neoliberal project, bent on “enforcing a bitter economic regime of privilege for the few and duress for the many.”

A right wing institution?

At the core of the European project is dogmatic commitment to the free-market. Since the 1970s, European markets have becoming increasingly integrated. The creation of a single currency, Masastricht and Lisbon Treaties, the Stability and Growth pact have driven this trend. Directives at the European Central Bank and the European Commission have now all but banned the Keynesian economic model – the very bedrock of social democracy.

With increased integration comes increased competition. EU states are now forced to compete for investment from multinationals more than ever before. In order to gain a competitive edge, states are forced to lower corporation tax, cut labour costs, weaken unions and compromise on environmental and social regulations. The result is spiralling inequality.

Some intellectual voices on the left, including Alan Johnson, have also argued that the failure of the EU to work democratically, in the interests of the majority, has created a “breeding ground for the far right.” In the US, many analysts have attributed the election of Donald Trump to anger at the unequal impact of globalization in some disaffected caucuses. The unequal spread of Economic integration benefits is perhaps a source of discontent here too.

Despite his long held opposition to the EU, Jeremy Corbyn is expected to announce a major policy shift next month. He is reported to be holding a meeting in early February with Labour bigwigs, in which he will discuss the prospect of remaining part of some sort of customs union.

For Corbyn this would draw clear battle lines to fight a Conservative party, currently floundering in chaos. It would appease pro-Europe sections of the Labour party. But such a policy shift would also represent a sacrifice of values for the Labour leader and some of his comrades.


By Sam Bradpiece

Interview: Charles Goerens on citizens’ rights and Brexit

The PanEuropean recently interviewed Charles Goerens, an MEP for Luxembourg and proponent of the Associative Citizenship proposal. We asked Mr. Goerens to explain the European Union’s stance on citizens’ rights, as well as why his Associative Citizenship proposal has been postponed.

Luxembourg MEP Charles Goerens

Where are we with Brexit and citizens’ rights?

It must be said that much progress has been made on citizens’ rights. The negotiations started from the British immigration law, and the British Government is now ready to concede a special settled status to EU nationals.

The European Parliament’s (EP) only weapon to fight for citizens’ rights is a means of pressure – namely to threaten with a negative vote on the final text of the withdrawal agreement. On the 8th of November, the Brexit Steering Group (BSG) issued a statement outlining its red lines on the latest UK citizens’ rights proposals.

“Parliament will not accept any weakening of existing rights that EU citizens currently enjoy with respect to family reunification, including both direct descendants and relatives of direct dependence in ascending line”

This week, a resolution supported by five political groups (EPP, S&D, ALDE, Greens and GUE) has been put to the EP’s vote on a plenary session. The resolution discussed the state of play of the negotiations.

However, major issues still need to be addressed to secure equal and fair treatment for EU citizens in the UK after Brexit. Our most important concern is the UK proposals for settled status for EU citizens in the UK, including the administrative procedures as set out in a technical note published by the UK Government on the 7th of November. It is our firm view that acquiring settled status:

  • Must be an automatic process in the form of a simple declaration, not an application which introduces any kind of conditionality (for example a pro-active ‘criminality check’).
  • Must enable families to make one joint declaration, not separate declarations for each individual family member.
  • Must place the burden of proof on the UK authorities to challenge the declaration and this only on a case-by-case basis and in line with EU law.
  • Must be cost-free.
  • Is a system that can only enter into force after any transition period, if requested and agreed, has concluded. Before that, the freedom of movement should apply.
  • On family reunification, Parliament will not accept any weakening of existing rights that EU citizens currently enjoy with respect to family reunification, including both direct descendants and relatives of direct dependence in ascending line.
  • We do not accept that there has to be any status difference between the members of a family born from different relationships or between those born before and those born after Brexit.
  • On the export of benefits, we insist that this cannot be limited to pensions only, but should include all benefits defined in the EU legislation.
  • Last but not least, we insist that UK citizens currently living in the European Union continue to benefit from the freedom of movement after Brexit. These are our red lines.

Will there be a difference of treatment between EU residents in the UK settled before Brexit and those applying for residency after Brexit?

It’s a key question. The status of future EU residents in the UK will be discussed in the second phase of the negotiations, once an agreement on Brexit has been concluded. The current negotiations are exclusively for the benefit of current EU residents in the UK.

Is your proposal on associated citizenship still on the agenda of the EP?

Unfortunately, I had to withdraw my proposal of an associated citizenship, which was fought harshly by those in favour of Brexit as well as by those in favour of strict reciprocity between the UK and the EU in the matter of citizen’s rights. My view as a Luxembourger is that reciprocity is not needed. I can tell you that the associated citizenship remains in the minds and hearts of most of the remainers. We will see in the next phase of the negotiations whether it is appropriate to revive this proposal, possibly on a reciprocal basis.

Briefing: what bitcoin means for Europe

One bitcoin would have cost you less than 10 cents in 2008: today you’d have to fork out €5,500.

Bitcoin does not exist as physical currency.

Despite its murky reputation, the online currency bitcoin has a lot of perks. Like gold, its value is unaffected by war or inflation, and your payment information is (supposedly) completely safe. Even central governments can’t stop you from moving it around.

But bitcoin – a popular currency for criminals – is volatile in other ways. Plus, the comparisons to gold only stretch so far: bitcoin doesn’t exist in the physical realm.

So what does it mean for Europe?

Bitcoin (briefly) explained.

The identity of bitcoin’s inventor is a mystery. Known only as Satoshi Nakamoto, this individual (or individuals) launched bitcoin in 2009, only to vanish in 2011, just as the currency was starting to gain attention.

Countless journalists have tried to uncover the identity of Nakamoto, and many individuals have either claimed to be, or been accused of being, the elusive figure.

Alas, the mystery remains unsolved.

There is no confusion about what Nakamoto left behind, however. Bitcoin is attractive for both investors and individuals because transactions do not require a middleman, and its value is universal. But how does it work?

Bitcoin runs on what’s called blockchain technology. This — according to Marketplace — is ‘a database of sorts that allows bitcoin to function without having an authority, like the bank, controlling it. Instead of an accountant tracking your transactions, there’s blockchain, keeping an Excel-like spreadsheet of all the admin.’ Essentially, the blockchain functions as a public ledger that requires its participants to keep track of the system.


The EU stance on bitcoin.

The EU has been slow to respond to cryptocurrencies. This is largely because such currencies were relatively obscure before 2014, and there was little need for legislation.

That said, Brussel  has taken an increasing interest in blockchain over the past 18 months.There’s even a sense of impatience. After a text was leaked ahead of the European Summit last month, the EU Observer reported that European leaders wanted to be on top of ‘emerging trends’ such as blockchain technology, and had asked the European Commission (EC) to ‘put forward a European approach to artificial intelligence by January 2018.’

One such approach was discussed earlier this year, when the European Parliament (EP) voted in favour of establishing a taskforce that would monitor cryptocurrencies. The EP issued a press release stating that the taskforce needed to ‘build up’ expertise in virtual currencies, and potentially propose legislation that would help regulate blockchain.

Notably, the EP said it was important not to take a ‘heavy-handed approach’ to cryptocurrencies, as there are ‘significant opportunities for the consumer and economic development.’ To date, the taskforce has not been assembled.

The EP also commissioned a white paper into blockchain technology in February this year. According to Bruegel, the central analysis was that regulation was needed because the traditional ‘middlemen’ (i.e. banks) were being replaced. These new middlemen required a different set of ‘regulation levers’ to ensure that ‘parties could uphold the law.’

In addition, the report raised four possible options to respond to blockchain challenges, including more transparency from governments and providing (or denying) legitimacy to those using blockchain. But these are only suggestions: ‘for the time being there is little effort to intervene at the European level.’

Surely then, the EU’s meandering response to bitcoin  shows a lack of concern. Bitcoin trading volume currently stands at $748 million per day, with other cryptocurrencies like Ethereum trading at $115 million.

Those might seem like high figures, but as financial journalist Felix Salmon points out, ‘those kind of figures aren’t even a rounding error. The foreign exchange markets see volume of $4 trillion per day.’

It seems that bitcoin has yet to develop into a serious threat to the EU banking sector and authority.

A threat to Europe? The Cyprus case.

However, the crisis in Cyprus in 2013 serves as an illuminating example of bitcoin’s potential power. When the Cypriot government invoked capital controls on people’s savings –  essentially preventing individuals from accessing and moving their money – it demonstrated that central authority still resorts to extreme measures to protect its banks.

Salmon noted at the time that uninsured account holders with either one of Cyprus’s two largest banks stood to lose most of their money, which was a ‘stark reminder of the dangers associated with depositing money in a bank.’

The Cyprus Popular Bank was forced to close in 2013.

The response from a lot of people was to invest in bitcoin, because the government had no way of either confiscating it or preventing people from transporting it out of the country.

With this in mind, the EC is keeping an eye on the trajectory of cryptocurrencies.One of the big challenges is not how fast and how far to regulate,’ said a recent EP press release, ‘but how to correctly monitor this fast evolving technology.’

Then there’s the recommendations agreed after the Global Conference on Countering Money Laundering and Digital Currencies, which range from increasing information pooling between countries to taking action against cryptocurrencies.

The conference concluded that blockchain currencies catered to individuals who wanted to evade the law through anonymous transactions, and as such ‘the existence of such companies should not continue to be tolerated.’

Six of the world’s major banks are teaming up to start issuing their own form of blockchain transactions as of next year.

But there is also a movement to encourage blockchain incorporation into existing systems. Both Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England (BoE), and Christine Lagarde, the head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), have urged the banking sector to embrace fintech, or financial technology.

Carney said cryptocurrencies were part of a ‘revolution in finance, and Lagarde warned against ‘dismissing virtual currencies,’ saying citizens may well soon prefer them.

The banking sector is listening. Six of the world’s major banks are teaming up to start issuing their own form of blockchain transactions as of next year.

Why bitcoin won’t overtake the Euro anytime soon.

Essentially, the collaboration between these six banks has an inherent stability and authority that unregulated cryptocurrencies do not have.

According to the FT, ‘at the heart of the issue (as always) is who dictates and enforces the rules of the system if and when things go wrong.’ Banks are subject to the authority of the state, but a currency with no affiliation to any nation carries inherent risks.

These became painfully apparent in November this year, when $280 million worth of Ethereum was lost after a user accidentally deleted the code needed to access digital wallets.

Such is the nature of today’s cryptocurrencies: many people use them because they mistrust the state (as in the case of Cyprus), but unwittingly place a huge amount of trust in third parties to look after their coins. The end result can be strikingly similar.

There are two more strong cases for why bitcoin does not pose an immediate threat to the EU. Firstly, the recent Segwit2x controversy proves that cryptocurrencies fall foul of the same ideological schisms as traditional currencies. Segwit2x is core piece of software that bitcoin runs on, and people are disagreeing over how to update it.

Those in favour of Segwit2x argue it will provide more space for transactions, those against say it is an attempt to centralise the currency. Although the argument has been resolved, with Segwit2x supporters promising to postpone their plan, it shows that blockchain currencies suffer from programming arguments that most people would have no knowledge about, undermining faith in them.

Secondly, and more importantly, bitcoin is a bubble. The majority of bitcoin’s investors are buying it simply to sell it later at a higher price. This is known as ‘Greater Fool Theory,’ where buyers have little interest in the commodity itself, and don’t care if it’s overvalued – they know that a bigger fool will buy it from them later on.

Indeed, the moment everyone tries to offload their bitcoins, its price will crash. Because every investor knows this is a possibility, says the Economist, ‘there is every incentive to sell first.’

For European banks and governments, bitcoin and other blockchain currencies are not an immediate threat. The private sector has responded by beginning to develop its own form of cryptocurrencies, and Brussels has concluded that bitcoin warrants investigation and observation, but not legislation.

The biggest threat to bitcoin is the currency itself: its value cannot rise indefinitely. The question is not if the crash will happen, but when.


Max Caskie

Guy Verhofstadt

Europe’s Last Chance by Guy Verhofstadt: understanding the man with the Brexit veto

With the Brexit talks finally underway, we revisit Guy Verhofstadt’s Europe’s Last Chance for an insight into the man with the power to veto the final deal.

Guy Verhofstadt
At the beginning of the year, the European Union was on the ropes.

Fears of a Brexit defection infection, and a ‘Trump-inspired wave’ of far-right nationalism toppling traditional parties in the Dutch, French and German elections, meant ‘Europeanists’ were contemplating the end of the EU.

Yet, in light of the divisions the Brexit process has caused within the UK – with British citizens’ status in the EU looking uncertain, and multinationals migrating to Frankfurt and Paris – Macron’s injection of pro-EU life-force, and far-right movements struggling to gain ground, the EU seems to be back on its feet.

Despite the refugee crisis on its southern border and Poland’s descent into dictatorship, questioning the Union’s very existence has largely gone out of fashion once again.

In fact, Europeans are feeling rather positive. Statistics from the Pew Research Centre show that the EU’s approval ratings around Europe have seen a sharp increase since Brexit.

For Guy Verhofstadt, the former Belgium Prime Minister, the collapse of the EU would have been a catastrophe. The ardent federalist is, he says, “in love with Europe.”

You can tell a lot about someone from how they react to a crisis.

In response, he wrote Europe’s Last Chance: Why the European States Must Form a More Perfect Union, arguing that the bloc must pull together, and reform, to resist splintering into divided nations.

In his role as the European Parliament’s (EP) representative in the ongoing Brexit talks, Verhofstadt is a key player. He has the power to veto the final deal.

guy verhofstadt
Tens of thousands joined the #marchforeurope protest in London on 2nd July 2016

So what do we know about him from Europe’s Last Chance?

1. He is not unaware of the EU’s malaise.

Verhofstadt is cast as a eurobuffon in much of the press. Yet the leader of the Liberal ALDE faction is acutely aware of the problems that threaten the European project he so believes in:

“…Great Britain’s decision to exit the EU; devastating terror attacks in Paris; desperate refugees flooding into nations unable – or unwilling – to shelter them humanely; intricate currency issues shaking the foundation of a common market; belligerents like Russia and ISIS promising fearful assaults…”
And his support for the EU is not unconditional. He is critical, for example, of the hypocrisy of the bureaucratic EU.

“Where a rule does not exist, we apply one; where the application of a rule is officially required, we do our utmost to avoid it.”

But unlike many – especially British – commentators, who believe these problems show it’s time to jump ship, Verhofstadt believes in more, not less, Europe.

2. He believes the EU should become like the US – a federation.

 Famous for his outspoken tweets, and for laying into right-wing Eurosceptics in Parliament, the floppy-haired, proudly European Verhofstadt has fast become the poster-boy for European federalists.

“The only way to survive,” he writes, is to give the EU “the powers and means to tackle the crisis it faces.”

How would he equip the EU with these “powers and means?” By creating the United States of Europe.

“Unless Europe emulates its American cousin, it is surely doomed.” For a European politician – with the apparent exception of Emmanuel Macron – Verhofstadt is surprisingly deferential towards the United States.

The U.S.E would mean social as well as economic integration – which Verhofstadt believes should have been done when the Union was founded in 1957 – with a cross-border FBI-style crime-fighting agency, a European Banking Union etc.

The idea is that global problems – such as climate change and financial crises – cannot be solved at an individual state level, so our system for solving them must be international.

Terrorism, for example, is “not hampered by national borders,” he argues, unlike a non-federal Europe.

3. Guy Verhofstadt sees nationalism as a disease.

Verhofstadt makes it abundantly clear that he believes nationalism is “the root of Europe’s problems.”

“Rather than opening their eyes and making the correct diagnosis, the member states – particularly France and Germany – continue to think they can meet the [EU’s] challenges on their own without making use of the full European scale.”

He talks about nationalism in very violent terms – as a “disease.” The same disease that caused the Holocaust.

He also criticises heads of state for the empty promises to their electorates, that – as long as they are concerned about “preserving the sacred cow of national sovereignty” – they will never be able to deliver.

As for popular opinion, he believes the majority of Europeans are pro-EU, but that political decisions should not be contingent on public approval:

“Many of today’s political leaders are followers rather than frontrunners, politicians who stick their fingers in the air to determine which way the wind is blowing rather than mavericks who fly in the face of public opinion where necessary.”

Unsurprisingly, Verhofstadt has not endeared himself to those across the spectrum who see the EU as an undemocratic, meddling, regulatory machine.

He is utterly single-minded in his belief that a federal Europe, free of nationalism, is “the only way to survive.” And ultimately the EU’s survival is more important than what he sees as fickle public opinion.

“The longer we leave our condition untreated”, he argues, “the more difficult it will be to cure.”

4. He is vehemently anti-Brexit.

There is not much love lost between Guy Verhofstadt and the Brexit brigade. Last year he labelled them all “rats

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Verhofstadt sees Brexit as a historic – and highly irrational – mistake, that will harm the UK economically and socially.

Not only will students “be excluded from Erasmus,” but European research funding will decrease, and the poorer areas of the southwest and the northeast will stop receiving EU aid.

He also argues that Brexit was a “divorce that only a minority seems to have wanted,” that it legitimised racism and xenophobia of the right wing press, and cleaved the country in two.

After a “merciless leave campaign that had focussed in the nastiest way imaginable on migration instead of whether to remain or leave,” he says, it is no surprise that there was a sharp spike in hate crimes when Brexit was announced.

“This disgrace of a campaign even motivated the murder Labour MP Jo Cox.”

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Not only does he see Brexit as an ugly mess, but he also believes the EU can’t be soft with Britain. This, he argues, would only embolden anti-EU parties who already see the EU as a “doormat.”

Brexit was a “divorce that only a minority seems to have wanted.”

On top of all that, Verhofstadt has a veto, and he’s not afraid to use it.
He has already made it clear that if he thinks it’s in the best interests of the European Union, Verhofstadt will kill the Brexit deal, threatening to block any deal he feels doesn’t respect the rights of EU citizens in the UK, and British citizens in Europe. Yikes.

5. Guy Verhofstadt is not shy of the limelight.

For what is supposed to be a blueprint for the future of the EU, there’s an awful lot of ‘I’ in Europe’s Last Chance.“I wanted to lend my symbolic support to the people of Paris, who had suffered so much…”

And there is much talk of huge crowds coming to hear him speak.

Verhofstadt clearly sees himself as one of the aforementioned “mavericks,” and his tweeting habits and penchant for making news show he is embracing his central role in the Brexit talks. This is a man who ran to be EP president, after all.

Britons that want a soft Brexit will hope he uses his position to put pressure on both sides to come to a deal that is even-handed and sensible, and that he won’t be too vindictive.

But some fear that his tough stance on Brexit, and his desire not to be lenient with the Conservative negotiating team, may see the UK dumped out of Europe with nothing to soften the blow.

Clearly, Guy Verhofstadt using his veto would be a disaster for both sides.


Frank Andrews.

European Parliament, Brussels

Opinion: Brexit means the time for a European constituency is now

Juuso Järviniemi of The New Federalist argues that Brexit has provided the perfect opportunity for European Parliament to create a Europe-wide constituency.

European Parliament, Brussels transnational lists
European Parliament, Brussels

Transnational lists for European elections have long been discussed in the European Parliament and among federalists. Brexit has presented a golden opportunity in this regard.

The creation of a Europe-wide constituency paralleling the national and regional ones would not require concessions from any member state if the new European seats replaced the British ones which are set to disappear in 2019.

But the clock is ticking, and the time to act is now.

Past efforts

On the initiative of Andrew Duff, the Constitutional Affairs Committee of the European Parliament repeatedly called for a transnational constituency of 25 MEPs during the 2009–2014 parliamentary term, but there was no luck in the plenary chamber. However, that was of course before the Brexit referendum presented a new opportunity for the reform.

In November 2015, the Parliament adopted a resolution on reforming the electoral law of the EU. Andrew Duff writes that in the resolution, the Parliament “finally voted to support a joint list.”

In the annex to the resolution, it is proposed that the line, “The Council decides by unanimity on a joint constituency in which lists are headed by each political family’s candidate for the post of President of the Commission,” be adopted in a Council decision.

This was not enough for the Greens, who are in favour of transnational lists.

In the aftermath of the November 2015 resolution, against which the Greens voted, their vice-president Josep Maria Terricabras deplored the missed opportunity to send a clear signal in support of designating a proportion of seats for European lists.

As Andrew Duff notes, in April 2017 the European Parliament referred to transnational lists again in a Brexit-related resolution, where it reiterated its commitment to reforming the electoral procedure on the basis of the earlier resolution.

More advocacy is needed

This is the best chance we’ve had to create a transnational constituency.

In addition to Brexit, the supportive stance of French President Emmanuel Macron, among others, contributes to this. The transnational constituency would have the potential to bring genuinely European issues to the fore in European elections, as up to nearly a tenth of the seats would be occupied by politicians with a European mandate.

And not everyone would spend their campaign talking about what their national government is doing, or about their home country’s foreign policy. One could also expect this to push the national and regional candidates to focus on what’s relevant for the European election. Additionally, as each citizen would have two ballots instead of one, the novelty could energise the electorate and increase turnout.

More informed voting, means a bigger turnout.

Moreover, with transnational lists each citizen could exercise scrutiny over more MEPs than before. A Finnish voter could vote for or against 13 MEPs in 2014. In 2019 the number could be 86. From the point of view of democracy, transnational lists are a worthy cause, and democracy is what elections are all about.

The issue of what happens to the British seats will have to be addressed sooner or later, but simply removing the seats altogether appears to be the default option. Academics and politicians I have discussed this with all find it unlikely that transnational lists will come into being, or think that present efforts are insufficient. In April, Politico Europe called the idea “utopian”.

No wonder.

Public discussion on the topic has been scarce, even though there is a clear proposal to be made. We need more prominent European politicians and public figures to make the case for reform. In the 2019 European election, there must be a EU-wide constituency of 73 MEPs.

Some may propose a constituency of a smaller size, which would allow for reducing the size of the parliament to an extent, but there is ample reason to be ambitious. There will be plenty of others out there to try to water down the idea. Indeed, that is the only thing we don’t have to do ourselves.

The debate on transnational lists is a part of a wider discussion on the allocation of seats in the European Parliament, a key question being the just representation of each citizen, considering the (intentional) over-representation of smaller member states.

Politico argues that other seemingly easy alternatives would increase the inequality of representation among citizens. This would be the case for both removing the 73 British seats altogether, and potentially for distributing them among the remaining EU27.

Transnational lists may be called lofty or unrealistic, but these alternatives have their own disadvantages.

A proposal for reallocation that would reduce this inequality – the Cambridge Compromise – has been made, but that alone will not bring about the other benefits of transnational lists. A 73-member European constituency would also increase the equality of citizens in the European Parliament, although to a lesser extent than the Cambridge Compromise.

In May, Andrew Duff proposed the introduction of both the Cambridge Compromise and transnational lists, options that need not be mutually exclusive.

The time is now

Whoever wants transnational lists, must act now – better not wait until the next country is leaving the EU.

This week I plan to contact my MEP, voice my support for the idea and ask what more ordinary citizens can do.

In the name of democracy and European citizenship, I recommend others to do the same.


EU: Juncker lambasts ‘totally ridiculous’ European Parliament in Strasbourg

Jean-Claude Juncker attacked the European Parliament in Strasbourg yesterday while addressing the ‘handful’ of MEPs who had turned up to hear him speak, says The Financial Times.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.

Mr. Juncker, President of the European Commission, spoke alongside Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, who was giving the final report on his country’s stint in the EU’s six-month revolving presidency.

‘They faced a chamber shorn of most of its 751 MEPs,’ said The FT.

“The fact that only about 30 members are present demonstrates amply that the parliament is not serious,” the incensed Mr. Juncker told the assembly.

He said he would “never again attend a meeting of this kind.”

European Parliament travels to Brussels once a month for its plenary sessions, but such low-attendance for ‘one of the parliament’s more high-profile agenda items’ will lead for further calls for the visits – which cost around €200m per year – to be ditched.

Though in the past France has repeatedly vetoed the idea.

‘The episode marks a rare public rift in the relationship between Mr Juncker and the parliament, which has been a reliable base of support for his presidency.’

Mr Juncker also clashed with European Parliament President Antonio Tajani after suggesting that the parliament was showing a lack of respect for Mr Muscat.

If it were German chancellor Angela Merkel or French president Emmanuel Macron, he said, “we would have a full house.”

During Malta’s six-month presidency, the Brexit process was official triggered, ‘heralding one of the bloc’s largest institutional challenges in years.’

Estonia took over the presidency on July 1. The UK had been next in line before the June 2016 Brexit vote.

Today, the Parliament is set to debate whether it should have a ‘single seat’ or continue the monthly trips to Strasbourg, though no vote will be held ‘for fear or provoking splits in the assembly’s different political groups.’

Mr Juncker’s outburst was not well received by many of the assembly’s members.

“Juncker must apologise,” said German MEP Sven Giegold.

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