Liberal politicians of various persuasions met in Amsterdam last week as guests of Mark Rutte, the Dutch prime minister. The meeting of European Liberals ended with a joint statement, which called among other things for all proceedings of the European Parliament plenary and of the Council of Ministers to be held in Brussels. (At present, MEPs hold 12 plenaries a year in Strasbourg and are obliged to have some of their staff in Luxembourg. The Council must meet in Luxembourg in April, June and October.)
Bernard Cazeneuve, France's minister for Europe, responded with predictable indignation, pointing out that the seat of the European Parliament is enshrined in the EU's governing treaties, which oblige it to meet 12 times a year in Strasbourg.
He singled out for criticism three European commissioners who attended the meeting: Neelie Kroes, Cecilia Malmström and Olli Rehn. “It is surprising that office-holding European commissioners should support an initiative that questions provisions of treaties of which the Commission is the guardian,” Cazeneuve harrumphed. A Commission spokeswoman defended the right of European commissioners to be politicians with political views.
The kerfuffle caused some difficulty for Werner Hoyer (pictured), who was listed by the European Liberals as attending the meeting. Hoyer made a career out of being a German liberal. Between 1987 and 2012 he was a member of the German Bundestag; he was for a time the minister for Europe, as a state secretary in the foreign ministry.
He and his staff rushed to point out that he had not subscribed to the statement on concentrating the Parliament and Council in Brussels. Why so coy? Because Hoyer is no longer an active politician. As head of the European Investment Bank, he is supposed to stand above politics. A further complication is that the EIB is housed in Luxembourg, where the authorities no doubt take a dim view of the European Liberals' statement.