In the Sunday Telegraph today, Daniel Hannan, Conservative MEP for the South East Region, asks: "What are we MEPs good for?"
Darling of the Eurosceptics, he might well ask, and he does so in the context of the Barrot affair, giving a first-hand witness account of the response to Farage’s revelations in the EU parliamentary chamber.
He is honest enough to admit that he holds no brief for the Faragistas. "They are doing Blair's work for him," he writes, "by dividing the Euro-sceptic vote." "But," he adds, "the way MEPs reacted to Farage's revelation was horrible."
One by one they rose to threaten him with legal action. The Liberal leader, Graham Watson, likened him to the football hooligans who had disgraced Britain in Europe. A fomer colleague of Barrot's, Jacques Toubon, rushed up and down the aisle, apparently looking for someone to punch (Robert Kilroy-Silk, recognising him as the minister who had tried to ban the English language from French airwaves, told him mischievously that no one would understand him unless he spoke English, which sent him into a choking fit). All this because Farage was doing the job that the rest of us ought to have done.Hannan then invites us to consider the Commission's other personnel change - one that has been largely overlooked as a result of the Buttiglione and Barrot affairs. The Latvian candidate, Ingrida Udre, he says was withdrawn as a candidate because she told MEPs that she favoured tax competition. Her inquisitors were scandalised, and Mrs Udre was duly replaced by a Hungarian apparatchik.
"There you have it", writes Hannan. "As far as MEPs are concerned, it is all right to have supported a totalitarian regime, to have been convicted in a corruption case or, indeed, to be an evident dullard with no knowledge of your portfolio. What is not all right is to support the supremacy of national parliaments. Dolts, shysters, reds and retreads are welcome. But someone who believes that nations should set their own taxes? That would be going too far."
So, Mr Hannan does not think MEPs are up to much. And he is right. But, just to inject a sour little note, Mr Hannan has a poor attendance record in the EU parliament. He rarely speaks in debates, or in committees, but manages to find time for two day jobs, one as leader writer for The Daily Telegraph and another writing the column in which he has slammed MEPs.
Clearly, these jobs, on top of his full-time salary as an MEP, are well-paid enough to allow Mr Hannan, on the rare occasions that he visits Brussels, to stay in one of the most expensive hotels in town. And this is the MEP who twice has raised principled objections to joining the federalist EPP in the parliament, only twice to swallow his principles and sneak into the group when the chips were down.
So, if Hannan asks "what are we MEPs good for", including himself in the question, perhaps he won't mind too much if we ask what specifically is Mr Hannan good for?