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Last Updated: Saturday, 30 October, 2004, 19:27 GMT 20:27 UK
Roxburgh's EU diary: October
Angus Roxburgh
Angus Roxburgh takes a wry look at life in Brussels.

This, apparently, was the month the European Parliament came of age.

At least that's what I think its president, Josep Borrell, meant when he kept talking about the "parliamentarisation" of the European Parliament.

If there is a daft way of expressing something, an EU official will find a way of doing it.

By parliamentarisation, I think Mr Borrell meant that Euro-MPs had done something noteworthy - and indeed they had.

They had just forced Jose Manuel Barroso, the president of the Commission, to withdraw his proposed team of 24 commissioners, just an hour before they were due to be voted into office.

That, we have to understand, is a very grown-up way to behave.


The message hadn't reached all MEPs, however, to judge by the kindergarten noises emanating from the back of the chamber throughout the subsequent debate.

Leaders of the various party groups had been invited to give their views on the situation, but every one of them was interrupted by a British former daytime television presenter, who was on his feet, waving his arms in the air and demanding that the president allow him to take the floor.

"Oy!" he bellowed, "Oy!" And sometimes, "Point of order!"

Eventually Mr Robert Kilroy-Silk - for it was he - was allowed to speak - to make his point of order (which is meant to be a procedural point, not a speech).

However, it did in fact turn out to be a speech.

Robert Kilroy-Silk makes his point of order

With a totally straight face, the man who had just been screaming down speaker after speaker, accused Mr Barroso, the Commission President, of showing total disrespect to the European Parliament.

Which is odd - because Kilroy himself doesn't think the parliament should exist.

A German MEP suggested Mr Kilroy-Silk should be given a tranquilliser.

It is not known if he took one, but a few hours later he did announce he was leaving the UK Independence Party's group in Parliament.

He was last seen muttering to himself that, really, he is more of a Labour kind of guy, and never had anything in common with those far-right UKIP people.


Meanwhile, back in the real world, there was a European Union without a Commission to run it.

Thank God there are some real heroes around - responsible men like Romano Prodi who jumped into the breach, agreeing to stay on as Commission president for as long as it takes for a new Commission to be appointed.

That could be some time. Mr Prodi's successor, the Portuguese Jose Manuel Barroso, is frankly in a bit of a pickle.

For one thing, he has now lost much of the goodwill he had when the European Parliament voted for him a couple of months ago.

Jose Manuel Durao Barroso
Jose Manuel Barroso is frankly in a bit of a pickle

He claimed on Wednesday that his authority had been "increased" by his decision to withdraw his team of commissioners to avoid defeat at the hands of MEPs.

Well, that is one way to put a positive gloss on a total disaster.

Yes, it would have been even worse if he had put the team to the vote and lost it.

And yes, he had certainly proved his ability to listen to criticism and draw the right conclusions.

But - the question was resounding around the shiny glass hallways in Strasbourg - why did it take him so long to get the message?

How come just the day before, he had made two speeches to MEPs re-stating his complete faith in the commissioners - including Rocco Buttiglione, whose views were neatly summed up by the Liberal Democrat leader Graham Watson, when he said: "Mr Buttiglione wants refugees kept in camps, women in the kitchen, and gays in hell."

How could Mr Barroso not see that his "concessions" - such as creating a board of other commissioners to oversee Mr Buttiglione's work - were cutting no ice whatsoever?

Was the charming Portuguese, so fluent in so many languages, proving to be politically inept?

Bubble economy

On other affaires de Strasbourg... France's dogged refusal to give up its right to host one of the European Parliament's headquarters, even though it is only used for three-and-a-half days a month, is causing ever greater problems for the local economy.

For years, hoteliers and restaurateurs have struggled with the huge demand during these "Strasbourg weeks", when MEPs, their assistants, pets, journalists and lobbyists descend on the place in their thousands.

For the remainder of the month, business is in the doldrums.

Now, with MEPs, assistants, pets, journalists and lobbyists arriving from not just 15 but 25 countries, it is even worse.

Hundreds of euro-commuters end up in hotels dozens of miles from Strasbourg - some even in Germany.

An ever-expanding circle of towns and villages on both sides of the Rhine is having to cope with the peaks and troughs of the "Strasbourg economic model" - more work than you can cope with for half a week, and empty hotel rooms and restaurant tables for the rest of the time.

EU row candidate stands down
30 Oct 04 |  Europe
Kilroy warns UKIP over expulsion
28 Oct 04 |  UK Politics
Kilroy quits UKIP group of MEPs
27 Oct 04 |  UK Politics
Profile: Rocco Buttiglione
21 Oct 04 |  Europe
At-a-glance: EU commissioners
27 Sep 04 |  Europe

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