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Uproar in Parliament

Paul Barltrop
Paul Barltrop
The Politics Show
BBC West

A visiting head of state is booed by elected members. Some walk out of the chamber. Why do such extraordinary events in the European Parliament not get noticed in Britain?

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They find a lot to disagree on. We gathered together three MEPs from the South West and the leader of the UK Independence Party, and it got lively.

But all agree on one thing: events in Strasbourg, or in this case Brussels, do not get enough coverage back home.

"Whereas in every other country in Europe you have an informed public debate about the EU," says Liberal Democrat Graham Watson, "in the United Kingdom sadly we don't."

The Politics Show West was in Brussels to see the Parliament at work, talk to its members, examine its record.

There were some surprises.

Battle of the anthems

If it had happened in the House of Commons we would never have heard the end of it.

A visiting head of state is ceremonially brought in, and the European anthem 'Ode to Joy' is played.

A defiant group of UKIP members try to drown it out, loudly singing 'God Save the Queen'.

The atmostphere was already highly charged - and about to get livelier.

For the visitor, Czech President Vaclav Klaus, is an outspoken Eurosceptic, and not one to shy away from confrontation.

He started politely; "EU membership does not have any alternatives," he lulled his audience.

Applause and boos

Soon the gloves came off. Bureaucratisation and alienation were mentioned; he told MEPs they were very distant from citizens.

And he made comparisons with the totalitarian communism that once prevailed in Eastern Europe.

Graham Watson
Graham Watson: No public debate

A few MEPs clapped vigorously. Others listened politely. Some got stroppy, shouting and booing.

Finally a group of left-wing members walked out, among them South West MEP Glyn Ford.

The aftermath

He later told me that it was like being lectured: as it was not a debate, they had no right of reply.

The foyer outside the chamber afterwards was crowded with cameras and journalists.

Our counterparts on the continent do much more on the EU; this was quite a story.

But back in Blighty it went largely ignored.

Most believe that coverage of the European Parliament has decreased - even as its powers have grown.

'Follow the money'

Glyn Ford
Glyn Ford walked out

"People talk about the European Parliament being a talking shop: follow the money," says SW MEP Glyn Ford.

"We have 5,000 people lobbying this institution, they want to come here not because they like the coffee.

"We make a difference."

Voters in the South West - and across the EU - can also make a difference, in June's European elections.

Watch the Politics Show West Brussels special on Sunday at 1200 GMT on BBC One (or watch again on the BBC iPlayer).

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