As the European Parliament’s last session before the UK referendum drew to a close in Strasbourg, some MEPs openly expressed concerns over Brexit, while others chose to hide their heads in the sand. EURACTIV France reports.
In its June plenary session, the European Parliament addressed the issues of endocrine disruptors, the migration crisis and a new set of EU proposals to tackle tax evasion.
Conspicuously absent from the agenda was any discussion on the UK’s vote on its EU membership. “We have adopted a kind of ostrich technique,” one socialist MEP said.
With the exception of the leader of the libral ALDE group, Guy Verhofstadt, none of the presidents of the Parliament’s main political groups seemed willing to bring up the subject of Brexit.
The Parliament’s big hitters were taking care not to offend the Brits as the referendum campaign comes into the home straight.
No amiable divorce
But for other politicians, the future of the Parliament’s British members is not a taboo subject. “If the United Kingdom chooses to leave the European Union on 23 June, I want to see them pay the full price,” said Yannick Jadot, a French Green MEP.
“It has to cost them dearly, otherwise other countries like Slovakia will start to think they would be better off adopting the United Kingdom’s individualist strategy rather than playing as a team,” the MEP added. “All of Europe’s extreme right and populist politicians will be able to play the David Cameron card and negotiate a special status.”
For now, nobody seems able to say with any certainty what will become of the UK’s MEPs if the country votes to leave the Union. But the next parliamentary session is planned for early July, less than a fortnight after the referendum.
“If the Brits continue to contribute to the community budget during the negotiation period, for example, of course they should also participate in the budgetary control,” said Jadot.
But the heads of the political groups were reluctant even to entertain the possibility of a Brexit. “What will we do? I hope we will all have a big party at the July session to celebrate the ‘Brexin’,” said Gianni Pitella, the leader of the Socialists and Democrats group.
Manfred Weber, the leader of the European People’s Party (EPP) group, said, “the Treaty does not say a great deal on this point […] but Brexit would undoubtedly mean a loss of political influence”.
Behind the official wall of silence, the Parliament “is preparing for different scenarios”, a French MEP told EURACTIV.
Martin Schultz, the president of the European Parliament, held a meeting with the heads of the main political groups – Weber (EPP), Verhofstadt (ALDE) and Pitella (S&D) – on Tuesday (7 June).
Their objective: to prepare the parliament’s response to the referendum result, be it a victory for Leave or Remain.
“If the United Kingdom leaves the EU, the Parliament will hold an extraordinary session between the 24 June and the European Council on 28 June,” the MEP said.
- 23 June: Referendum
- 24-28 June: Proposed extraordinary plenary of the European Parliament.
- 28-29 June: EU summit in Brussels