The European Parliament’s fleet of chauffeur-driven cars shines a light on the paradox of the EU

The European Parliament’s fleet of chauffeur-driven cars shines a light on the paradox of the EU

For most of us European Parliament MEP newbies, the sheer scale of the EU’s excess is best illustrated by the fleet of shiny limos at our beck and call. But the place is much more complex than that. The following story, told to me by one of the drivers quite innocently and without a trace of irony, shines a light on the paradox of the EU and why it’s difficult for us Brits to deal with it.

The Parliament works hard to live up to its environmental commitments. Energy-saving escalators, intelligent lighting, recycling bins for just about every type of rubbish, it’s really good and puts most public buildings in the UK to shame. Similarly with the cars, many of which are electric-petrol hybrids. Also good, but why not fully electric, I asked my driver as we battled through the Brussels rush-hour to the station. After all, 90% of MEP journeys are easily in range, within just a few miles of the city.

It’s a condition of the Treaties that most of the monthly voting sessions don’t happen in Brussels, but 250 miles away in Strasbourg. So every few weeks, the entire circus is packed up into a fleet of juggernauts and shipped to France for a few days – including the fleet of 130 chauffeur-driven limos which also make the journey.

“But there’s a problem”, my driver told me. “There are hardly any recharging points on the way. Even a rapid charge takes over an hour. The last car in the queue would have to wait five days to be recharged! All-electric would never make it. Our hybrids will do the first 30 miles on electric, but then it’s petrol for the rest of the trip.”

I’m still struggling to unpack this story. The environmental wins in Brussels are impressive, but utterly undermined by the vastly polluting transfers to Strasbourg. Hybrid cars are good, but electric ones would be much better. What’s stopping an institution with the power of the EU from organising a few more charging points on the way to Strasbourg?

The paradox of the EU is that it’s an institution where good and bad live cheek by jowl. The money, the group system, the democratic process, the environment… in fact, pretty much everything has at its heart some sort of paradox.

Those who like the EU interpret this an organisation founded on compromise; those who don’t see it drowning in hypocrisy. It’s complex and devoid of the sense of irony which enables we Brits to put up with such things and ‘keep buggering on’. Which I suppose is why we are buggering off.