The European Parliament’s regular jamboree in Strasbourg saw it chastised yesterday by Jean-Claude Juncker for the “ absolutely ridiculous” level of interest its members showed in coming to listen to him – as only 30 of the 751 were present. “I will never again attend a meeting of this kind,” the Commission president declared, refusing to back down in face of protests from the EP’s President Antonio Tajani. Given how hard the European Union has been trying to look united during the Brexit negotiations, such squabbling between leading Eurocrats does not look good.
Tempers continued to fray when Mr Juncker’s second-in-command, Frans Timmermans, stepped into the chamber, but his ire was aimed at a Ukip MEP who suggested – ahead of this Friday’s G20 summit in Hamburg – that members from outside the EU would happily fill the trade gap if the bloc refused to give Britain fair access to the single market. “To say that the whole of European Union is going to suffer terribly in the G20 because of Brexit is a bit rich frankly,” the Commission’s Vice-President shot back, comparing him to the Black Knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail – “who after being defeated terribly and having all of his limbs cut off, says to his opponent, ‘let’s call it a draw’. (After such an allusion, he declared himself to be a “lover of British culture”)
The Euro-humour was shelved when Mr Timmermans spoke of Britain’s decision to leave the European Union. He said that “we are all under an economic, a political and, above all, a moral obligation to do the least harm possible in this Brexit process.” This marks a considerably softer tone than other European leaders like Emmanuel Macron, who described Brexit as a “crime” that would leave Britain in “servitude”.
Does Mr Timmermans’ rhetoric mark a more pragmatic approach from the EU side? It comes after the Prime Minister of Malta, which has finished its six-month term holding the rotating presidency of the EU, berated other leaders for doing “nothing” to stop Britain leaving the bloc. They may have sounded after the referendum like they wanted to leave the Britain hobbling about like Monty Python’s Black Knight, but British negotiators will be relieved to see they are keen now for something completely different: to do business.
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