Top ten events that marked the current European Parliament

Irish MEP Nessa Childers behind her #MeToo sign during a 2017 EU Parliament session. [EPA]

Sexist remarks during a European Parliament session, dogfight in the Parliament’s buildings, Jean-Claude Juncker’s anger and Mark Zuckerberg’s interrogation. EURACTIV’s media partner Euroefe looks back at the ten events that marked the eighth legislative term of the European Parliament.

Commissioner Cañete in the spotlight

On 1 October 2014, the Parliament was close to blocking the nomination of the Spanish Commissioner for climate action and energy.

Miguel Arias Cañete had to apologize for his sexist remarks and clarify a possible conflict of interest with his oil industry past. To clear himself, he was forced to sell the shares he had in two oil companies. His wife, son and brother-in-law are still shareholders or even members of both companies.

A UKIP altercation that ended badly

On 6 October 2016, MEP Steven Woolfe, then favourite to lead the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), was hospitalised in serious condition in Strasbourg following an altercation during a party meeting on the sidelines of a plenary session in the European Parliament.

The picture of him unconscious on the Parliament’s floor quickly became viral. The MEP even fainted in the hallway after a heated discussion. UKIP’s former leader, Nigel Farage, said at the time that he “deeply regretted what happened.”

UKIP leadership frontrunner hospitalised after European Parliament fight

Steven Woolfe, the favourite to take over from Nigel Farage as leader of the UK Independence Party, was rushed to hospital today (6 October), after an alleged fight with fellow UKIP MEPs in the European Parliament.

Sexist outburst of Polish MEP

In March 2017, Polish MEP Janusz Korwin-Mikke, defended the wage gap between men and women during a plenary session. He justified it citing the “inferiority” of women. “Of course women must be paid less than men, because they are weaker, smaller and less intelligent,” he said. He was sanctioned before he resigned.

No penalty for MEP Korwin-Mikke, ECJ rules

The European Court of Justice annulled on Thursday (31 May) a decision of the European Parliament which had imposed sanctions on former Polish right-wing MEP Janusz Korwin-Mikke over the comments he made against migrants and women in 2016 and 2017.

Parliament sets its red lines for Brexit

The EU Parliament decided in April 2017 that the priorities for the Brexit divorce agreement are the legal status of Brits living in the EU (and vice versa) and the new external borders with special treatment for Northern Ireland, so as not to jeopardise the peace process.

On this issue, a speech by Spanish MEP Esteban González Pons against populism became viral.

EU lawmakers urge UK to adopt alternative Brexit plan

With no majority in the UK Parliament for a third vote on the withdrawal agreement, EU lawmakers have called on British MPs to back an alternative Brexit plan or leave without a deal. 

Farewell to Europe’s parents: Helmut Kohl and Simone Veil

On 1 July 2017, world leaders such as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Russian Prime Minister Dimitri Medvedev and former US President Bill Clinton all came to Strasbourg to pay homage to former German leader Helmut Kohl. A key player in European integration, he died a few days before Simone Veil, the European Parliament’s first president and symbol of European feminism and anti-Semitism.

Bill Clinton expected to speak at Kohl's tribute on 1 July

EU leaders and former heads of state from Europe and elsewhere will meet in Strasbourg on 1 July to pay tribute to the late German Chancellor, Helmut Kohl, in the European Parliament.

Juncker lashes out at an empty Parliament

The presence of only 30 out of 751 MEPs in the European Parliament during the speech of the Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat on 4 July 2017, prompted Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to criticise the Parliament for being “ridiculous”, triggering a brief interinstitutional crisis.

“If Mr Muscat, the prime minister of Malta, had been Mrs Merkel or Mr Macron, we would have had a full house. The Parliament is totally ridiculous,” said the former prime minister of another small country, Luxembourg.

Juncker: ‘The European Parliament is ridiculous. Very ridiculous’

Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker got angry today (4 July) at the European Parliament plenary session reviewing the Maltese Presidency. Seeing the hemicycle almost empty, he called the parliament “ridiculous”.

Zuckerberg apologises to Europe

Facebook President Mark Zuckerberg apologised during his public testimony – broadcast online – before the chairmen of the European Parliament’s political groups on 22 May 2018. He had already done so before the US Senate a month earlier following the massive data leak at Cambridge Analytica, which had an influence on the Brexit vote.

MEPs outraged over Zuckerberg’s EU Parliament show

Tensions soared between a handful of leading MEPs and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg as the 34-year-old billionaire avoided answering detailed questions on the company’s data policies during a meeting in the European Parliament on Tuesday evening (22 May).

Launching the #Metoo blog

In October 2018, a group of European Parliament employees launched the “MetooEP” blog, where victims of sexual harassment or sexist behaviour can tell their stories anonymously.

The EU Parliament took measures in response to the blog and to prevent future harassment of this kind. MEPs can take courses on the matter but these are not mandatory.

#MeToo blog allows victims at European Parliament to speak freely

A new blog is collecting accounts of sexual harassment at the European Parliament, whether they be inappropriate comments, touching or sexual assaults. An advisory committee has also put new measures in place. EURATIV France’s media partner Ouest-France reports.

Tajani’s controversial statements on Mussolini

On 13 March 2019, the President of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani, had to apologise for his words in which he stated that everything the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini had done was not bad. According to him, it was a misunderstanding.

“I’ve always been a convinced anti-fascist, I will not allow anyone to suggest otherwise. The fascist dictatorship, racial laws and deaths it caused are the darkest page in Italian and European history,” he said in his defence on Twitter.

Tajani will need to explain his Mussolini statements

The Capitals brings you the latest news from across Europe, through on-the-ground reporting by EURACTIV’s media network. You can subscribe to the newsletter here.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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