Silvana loses interest
Silvana Koch-Mehrin, sometime leader of the German liberals in the European Parliament and sometime vice-president of the Parliament, has announced that she will not be seeking re-election as an MEP in 2014. First elected in 2004 at the tender age of 33, Koch-Mehrin will reach her 42nd birthday next month in a less innocent, more embittered condition. In an interview with the German newsweekly Der Spiegel, Koch-Mehrin took a few sideswipes at her own party, the Free Democratic Party (FDP), junior partner in Chancellor Angela Merkel's ruling coalition. She criticised an increasingly Eurosceptic attitude even within her own party, and said that the FDP's opposition to eurobonds was wrong. She said that she could “imagine interesting activities for the time after 2014 as well”. That should be taken as an admission that life in the Parliament has become less interesting for her since she was forced to resign from leadership of the national delegation and the Parliament vice-presidency in May 2011, just before Heidelberg University, having investigated allegations of plagiarism, annulled the doctorate that she had been awarded.
Angela Merkel, Germany's chancellor, is to address MEPs in Brussels on 7 November. Beneath that bald statement lies some nifty footwork by Martin Schulz, the president of the Parliament, and his protocol experts. A mini-plenary session had been foreseen for 7-8 November, but because the plenary chamber is out of action (cracks were found in the ceiling last month) the plenary session has been cancelled. On the other hand, MEPs are very keen to hear from Merkel. They have been grumbling about her attachment to austerity, and her reluctance to move faster on a European banking union, and they want to put across their case for a more generous 2014-20 European Union budget. Instead of attending a plenary session, Merkel is being invited to address a meeting of the conference of the presidents (leaders of the political groups) convened by Schulz. So where will the meeting take place? In the next biggest room, which is the room used for group meetings of the centre-right European People's Party. Although Merkel will be on friendly territory, Schulz, a German socialist, will be on foreign ground. A Parliament official said that the room was an EPP room only during group weeks. In this case, Merkel's visit was falling during a committee week.
We would prefer Yvette
Yves Mersch, the governor of Luxembourg's central bank, trod carefully during his appearance on Monday evening (22 October) before the European Parliament's economic and monetary affairs committee. The committee was supposed to be assessing his candidacy for a place on the executive board of the European Central Bank. Mersch divided up his opening statement, speaking first in English, then French, then German, but the sequencing of languages was a little out of step with the content. The bit in English stressed his European credentials, including how he had made a job application to the European Parliament (but opted to do something else) and how he developed his interest in monetary policy from the work of Raymond Barre (an economist who later became prime minister of France). Then Mersch switched to French to talk about the lessons that he drew from his experience of the collapse of BCCI (a British banking scandal), then to German to assert his belief in the need for greater accountability and transparency at central banks. After that, MEPs' questions were divided between his views on economic matters and his sex. A majority on the committee was indignant at the prospect of perpetuating an all-male board. Mersch had begun by reminding the committee that he is a great-nephew of Robert Schuman, a founding father of the EU. It was a powerful claim, but he would have stood a better chance of gaining the committee's approval if he had been Schuman's great-niece.
Smile, you're ready for a fight
MEPs were asked to look cheerful at lunchtime on Tuesday (23 October) – even though they were about to vote on the EU's budget for 2013 and thereby precipitate a conflict with the member states. Just before the vote, the Parliament's authorities had arranged for a photographer to take a 360-degree picture of the MEPs in the hemicycle. In practice, he took a series of wide-angled shots, which he would later stitch together to create a panoramic effect. With the Parliament going into battle against the Council, the pleas for greater unity are frequent. However, political unity is more difficult to achieve than the photographic ensemble.
A tight squeeze
The European Parliament's decision to schedule two plenary sessions in one week was a subtlety too far for its own travel service. In a normal plenary week, the Parliament charters a high-speed train to ferry MEPs and staff from Brussels to Strasbourg on Monday and charters another from Strasbourg to Brussels on Thursday afternoon. For this week, into which the Parliament was squeezing two plenary sessions (Monday-Tuesday and Thursday-Friday), the return train journey has been moved from Thursday to Friday (26 October). But that was the limit of the adaptation. The Parliament's travel agency still sent out a message saying that tickets for the return journey could be cancelled free of charge “until Wednesday before noon during the session”. Such wording would be fine in a normal week, but makes little sense in a week of two plenary sessions whose common characteristic is that Wednesday is not in either of them.