Friday, November 19, 2004

Rattling skeletons

Well, they have finally done it. 66 per cent of MEPs have approved Barroso’s somewhat renewed Commission during the plenary session in Strasbourg. Please pay attention as this will be the last time the European Parliament members will actually have the slightest idea of what they are voting about. Future votes will consist of hands raised (or occasionally buttons pressed for the roll-call vote) under instruction from group leaders on several hundred amendments in the space of an hour or so, several days after what passes for a debate in that institution.

President Barroso, who is clearly as good at meaningless statements as his predecessor Prodi (we shall have to wait to see whether he will also lose his temper from time to time) made a somewhat fatuous statement:
"We are able to say to the people of Europe that we have come out of this experience with strengthened institutions, in a better position to meet their expectations."
What very odd ideas he has of what the people of Europe expect or even care about. Does he really think anybody apart from political nerds, among whom I fear I have to number myself, paid any attention to the tortuous negotiations on which particular failed politician or wannabe international personality should mouth the writings of which part of the bureaucracy? After all, as we have described on numerous occasions, the legislation of the European Union consists of unrolling multiannual programmes. Who the particular Commissioner is at any specific moment is of little relevance.

That said, it has to be admitted that there are some skeletons waiting to tumble out of cupboards. We have not heard the end of the story of Neelie the Board Lady, the supposed opponent of over-regulation, whose great achievements all seem to involve seats on numerous boards. She has been accused of lying to the Parliamentary committee and the accuser, Paul van Buitenen, whisltel blower turned MEP, is known for his persistence.

László Kovács, the Hungarian ex-communist apparatchik seems to have managed to mug up enough on the subject of taxes to pass his interrogation, but his known ignorance of the subject is bound to come out sooner rather than later. Incidentally, what of those whoops of joy at the thought of some East European taking on the tax portfolio? They have been muted somewhat.

The new Italian Commissioner has done well (he is going to be replaced by the flamboyant right wing Gianfranco Fini as Foreign Minister in Italy) but we seem to have a problem with the French member of the team.

There was an interesting kerfuffle during the so-called debate yesterday in Strasbourg. Nigel Farage UKIP MEP demanded to know whether his colleagues would buy a second-hand car from Jacques Barrot. Apparently he was not referring to his appearance but the fact that
“M. Barrot had been sentenced to an 8 month suspended sentence and was barred from elected office in France for 2 years, after being convicted in 2000 of embezzling FFR 25m (US$ 3.8m) from French government funds by diverting it into the coffers of his party.”
President Chirac had granted Barrot a presidential pardon, which made it illegal even to mention the conviction, so the French media obliged. Many of the French MEPs were unaware of the story.

Mr Farage was threatened with legal action by the European Parliament President, Josep Borrell, there by grace of a backroom agreement between the two main groups, and censured by other MEPs. It is not done to reveal past secrets about present Commissioners.

So, it is business as normal in the European Union. And just in case anyone is interested, here are the relevant salaries though not the expenses, which probably effectively double incomes:

Normal Commissioner: 217,280 euros (£152, 661 / $283,374)
Vice-President: 241,422 euros (£169,622 / $314,859)
President: 266,530 euros (£187,246 / $347,592).

Nice work if you can get it, and then there's the pension to follow.

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