The Brief – Tales from the ‘Bourg

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MEPs closed the Strasbourg shop this week before the EU elections and EURACTIV was there to see all the comings and goings. What happens in Alsace, definitely does not stay in Alsace…

It was the last plenary but the first political debate between two of the main candidates to be the next European Commission president: Frans Timmermans and Manfred Weber.

What was meant to be a live debate on French TV was rejigged after the tragic Notre-Dame inferno. Instead of going out live, it was taped for airing the next evening.

Cue confused journalists wondering whether to bother watching the two lock horns, as the content was embargoed, or to go get some flammekueche in the centre of Strasbourg and watch the football.

The debate was the dampest of squibs, only made slightly interesting by the dynamic of the two moderators addressing both Timmermans and Weber in French, despite the latter not having a good enough grasp of the language to respond.

Both were entirely predictable, from talk of a socially just and sustainable Europe to a “better Europe” that protects its citizens. The only interesting point was made by Weber, who said that he would appoint a ‘Commissioner for Africa’ if he lands the presidency.

Here’s hoping the big Eurovision debate on 15 May will be a bit more worthwhile.

The rest of the session had a rather end-of-school feel to it and EP Vice-President Mairead McGuinness is not a stranger to such good-byes, having served for almost 15 years as an MEP.

At a time where fear seems to be taking over hope in Europe, McGuinness got emotional and quoted famous Irish poet Seamus Heaney.

“So hope for a great sea-change, On the far side of revenge. Believe that further shore, Is reachable from here. Believe in miracle, And cures and healing wells.”

The poem gives its title to a well-known book that describes the peace process in Northern Ireland, which was concluded on a Good Friday, which is tomorrow.

“If only we could replace fear with hope,” she added, in what it seemed a declaration of intent ahead of May’s vote, where she hopes to get enough support to take up a seat once again.

One lawmaker not planning on coming back to the Parliament is Estonia’s Hannes Hanso, who will perhaps go down in infamy as the one-plenary-stand MEP.

He officially took office two weeks ago to replace Ivar Padar, who went back to domestic politics, and already decided to quit politics and focus on family life after his short stint.

“Thank you for the fantastic opportunity, dear colleagues. For many people here it’s the last opportunity to speak, for me it’s the first and the last,” the socialist told his new peers.

He is the only lawmaker who does not have a picture on the Parliament’s website and he probably never will, although he perhaps tongue-in-cheek asked Antonio Tajani to make a special note of his intervention in the Parliament’s official records.

Hanso might also be remembered as the only MEP to turn up to the same amount of plenary sessions as the Smurfs...

The British contingent was split as expected over their alleged last sitting in the sacred halls.

While hard-core Brexiteer Nigel Farage got an unexpected accolade by die-hard liberal Guy Verhofstadt, Labour MEP Seb Dance in a heartwarming goodbye address called his European colleagues “wonderful”, expressing hopes to return to the chamber.

And let us be honest, what’s a goodbye party without some good music? First, Dutch fishermen tried to win MEPs over with some folk singing, then Slovenia’s Alojz Peterle gave a rousing rendition of Ode to Joy on a harmonica.

But it’s not really over until the fat lady sings.

Watch this space for our small end-of-term documentary to be aired closer to the election showdown, if you want to find out what group leaders, outgoing veterans and newbies to the hemicycle had to say after the Parliament’s curtain dropped.

The Roundup

By Alexandra Brzozowski

In a last act before the end of the term, EU lawmakers rubber-stamped the European Defence Fund. Small controversy: They also gave up their parliamentary veto.

The House also backed plans to force online hosting services to remove terrorist content within one hour of reporting, a ban on electric fishing in EU waters and plans to make WiFi the technology of choice for connected cars.

German Justice Minister Katarina Barley explains why she wants digital firms to share their collected data with the public, and to limit the power of companies such as Facebook and Amazon.

The EU has reacted angrily to a Trump administration announcement that Americans can sue foreign firms over seized Cuban property, threatening to take a case to the WTO.

In our news from around Europe this morning, Serbia said it cannot protect its interests without Russia. If you haven’t subscribed to The Capitals yet, you can do so here.

Look out for…

The Brief takes a well-deserved short break until after Easter and is back on Tuesday, 23 April.

Views are those of the authors

[Edited by  Sam Morgan]

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