My first week in the taxpayer-funded rabbit warren that is the European Parliament

My first week in the taxpayer-funded rabbit warren that is the European Parliament

Last week was my first week in the innards of the beast that is the European Parliament and the Hydra-like institutions that surround it. I am no stranger to Brussels and Strasbourg, having been a regular visitor, in various guises, over a forty-year business career. Right back from when it did not matter much, to now, when the EU impacts on our everyday life and very being as a nation.

My trip began, quite literally, on the “gravy train”. I have never travelled in Eurostar Business Premier (First Class) before but we were instructed that it is “de rigeur” to travel by the most expensive means, lest we let the EU side down. The EU Parliament seems to insist on this, even if it requires a ridiculously circuitous route.

Brussels was sleepily coming back to life following a bank holiday; the whole Parliament shuts down for a month in the spring as there are so many holidays between which people make Le Pont. The run-down and ramshackle look of the place was only interrupted by towering new buildings peppering the landscape like H. G. Wells’ monsters. A road worker with an angle grinder sprayed sparks – of course with no ear protectors and no goggles, under the nose of the EU officials. No health and safety here. Technically, the health and safety lot are in Luxembourg and if you might think that Brussels is an ivory tower, a layer cake of petifogging bureaucracy, I once made the mistake of visiting the thousands of officials in Luxembourg. You might say it was the cherry on the top.

It is always worth reflecting on the fundamental incompatibility of the legal base of the continentals and the British, which runs through our very culture. Napoleonic law, which pervades Europe, is based on the principle that you can do nothing unless it is permitted. English Common law, which underpins the Commonwealth and the USA, says you can do anything unless it is prohibited.

The former leads to a culture of “work arounds”, cheating, and of corruption; the latter to a mindset of freedom of the individual and adherence to the rule of law. This is writ large in the EU Parliament and institutions where corruption has been a constant companion.

This made-up city, the capital of a country invented by Britain, contains vast numbers of clever officials, translators, researchers, support staff and flunkies, all hell bent on churning out rules with which we have to comply. Even when they have run out of useful stuff to do, they carry on. After all that is the raison d’être. What a waste of talent. On this occasion, most of them appeared to be in the street cafes around the Parliament – after all it was 10.30am, far too early to take things seriously.

I had the misfortune to tramp the streets of this grey place too often in the past. You know it was too often when the manager and the ‘maître d’’ of the hotel greet you by name even though you have not been in the place for more than three years. I put it down to memorable charm.

There are now even more grey edifices which have sprung up across the political district at our taxpayers’ expense, than I ever remember. They tower over the common man (that’s me), only brightened up by a cheerleading performance going on outside the entrance. Sadly, it turned out not to be for me and my band of Brexit Party MEPs “elect” (note that we don’t officially start until 2nd July).

The dark marble grandeur of the whole thing was reminiscent of Terry Gilliam’s film Brazil, a vision of a dystopian dictatorship which turned out to be a nightmare in the head of a tortured soul. And torture it was, from dawn till dusk in the human factory and propaganda machine.

Once inside we were presented with rows of bureaucrats, split into competing camps, processing, signing you up to the EU programme. Dare to ask anyone anything other than what was immediately in front of them and it might as well have been a request in Martian, so little did they know about how it all fitted together. So narrow was their vision, I came away surprised that they could find the way to the toilet. In fairness, in the rabbit warren of corridors, elevators and floors, accommodating tens of thousands of salarymen and women, I am surprised anybody could. Take one wrong turn and you might never emerge from the building.

Of course, the Parliament itself is used for only a few weeks a year as we and the entire circus will have to haul ourselves off at least once a month – at huge expense to you, dear reader – to Strasbourg, where there is another Parliament building. For an EU superstate, one Parliament is simply not enough. Not of course that this equivalent of the Chinese People’s Assembly can actually, directly protect your interests. It might produce enough hot air to frighten climate change activists but, as I was told, very rarely have British MEPs (and for that matter officials) ever been able to stop policies that damage UK interests or the inexorable march of the EU project so beloved of Merkel and Macron. Be assured that we Brexit Party MEPs will however hold up a mirror, make waves and hold our government to account for membership of the EU, by loudly calling them out.

I have seen many a Champagne and caviar reception in Strasbourg and Brussels, however not on this occasion – or perhaps they knew who we were. We had instead the serious business of signing up for computers and travel, hotels and cars. Not that the logic of much of this stood up to scrutiny. For example, the generous pool of 160 Mercs available to MEPs would do pick-ups at airports and rail stations but not deliver the person to their hotel, only to the Parliament. They would then, and only then, take you to a hotel. Same in reverse. After all, what is the point of overweening bureaucracy if you can’t add on miles and make it as complicated as possible. A little microcosm of the EU.

We were warned of the curse of wayward past MEPs, sucked under by the glamour, seduced by the many well hidden pleasures and flesh pots of Brussels. No mention, however, of padded rooms for those driven terminally insane.

We were briefed on the workings of the Parliament, how we might sit for months without a chance to speak, that we would only have one minute before being cut off, and that the entitled elite – Verhofstadt, Juncker, Barnier and Selmayr – wouldn’t be listening anyway. At least we were assured Juncker has a sense of fun. I remember sitting through interminable meetings in the serious and dull place, listening through my “cans” to the continuous translation and not able to resist a whimsy or a joke, after all that’s what the Brits are most valued for, our humour. All the nationalities would laugh, a little light relief. Except for the Germans. But not because they had no humour, but because they had no English and it would take an extra ten seconds for the translator to get to the verb at the end of the sentence.

The prize for the Eurospeak statement of the day must go to the official who explained to me, without a hint of irony, that it was not permitted to be an MP of a Member State and be an MEP because that would be a direct conflict of interest. I think that probably sums up the problem!