I was laid low by a bout of 'flu last week and as I re-emerged, somewhat groggily, into the heady atmosphere of European politics, I heard that Marta Andreasen, sometime chief accounting officer of the European Commission, had defected from the UK Independence Party to the Conservatives. I had some difficulty working out whether I was hallucinating, for reasons that I can by now just about explain.
You could be forgiven for not knowing, but Andreasen has been a member of the European Parliament since 2009. She had been taken up by UKIP as some kind of “trophy whistleblower” because she had successfully styled herself as a scourge of the European Commission who had been victimised for accusing it of fraud and malpractice. (She was suspended from her job shortly after she began in 2002 and there then followed a protracted disciplinary battle.) There are a lot of flaws in that Andreasen myth, but the uncomfortable truth for the European Commission is that they repeatedly contributed to their own difficulties.
Firstly, Andreasen was appointed at the behest of Michaele Schreyer, the then European commissioner for budget, who demanded a woman be added to the short-list. References were not taken up before the appointment – which might have uncovered that she had also had difficulties with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Secondly, Bernard Mingasson, the director-general for budget, to whom Andreasen was supposed to report, obviously inflamed things from the start. Thirdly, Neil Kinnock, the European commissioner for administration, inflamed an already bad situation, briefing against Andreasen. The Eurosceptic British press was predisposed to believe Andreasen rather than Kinnock and he ended up getting blamed for a situation that had been created by Schreyer and Mingasson.
Andreasen became an embodiment of the accusation “the European Union is riddled with fraud” and so someone thought it would be a good idea to make her UKIP's treasurer and then a candidate for the European Parliament. Hence her election in 2009.
In some respects, she fitted in. She made wild accusations against the EU. So do other UKIP MEPs. She played fast and loose with the evidence. So do other UKIP MEPs.
In other respects, however, she did not fit in, clashing repeatedly with the UKIP leadership, particularly Nigel Farage. There were accusations and counter-accusations when she resigned the treasurership of the party.
What baffled me though, in my post-'flu haze, was why the Conservatives had welcomed her into their ranks. What is in it for them?
You do not have to look far to see what is in it for Andreasen. In January, she was threatened with a defamation suit after circulating an email claiming that an ex-Conservative MP, Neil Hamilton, was getting favourable treatment as the party drew up its list of candidates for the next elections to the European Parliament. Clearly she was feeling a little insecure.
I am told that Andreasen has now been promised by the Conservatives, as a reward for her defection, a place on the Conservatives list for the 2014 elections. And as a returning MEP, she would be reserved a high-up place on that list.
So what do the Conservatives get? They get one more person in their delegation. They get to put one over on UKIP, at a time when they are feeling vulnerable towards a party that is climbing alarmingly rapidly in the opinion polls. And, er, that's it.
Tim has been editor of European Voice since 2009, having joined the staff as deputy editor in 2004. He has been reporting on EU issues since he came to Brussels in 1998. His greatest claim to fame in the eyes of some of his colleagues is that, growing up in north London, he used to have violin lessons with the artist now known as George Michael.
More comment and analysis
Outcomes of Vilnius summit look small
The refusal of some banks to settle with the European Commission could yet undermine its settlement procedure
Member states are on course to water down plans to promote the use of electric cars