Previously published in The Times Ireland Edition.
I wonder does Guy Verhofstadt, former Belgian prime minister and current European Parliament Mr. Brexit ever look out the window and sigh at how aliens have never once tried to kill him?
Not once has he ever had to battle down corridors cracking aliens over the head with blunt objects like the proposed European Hatware for Badgers with Low Esteem directive, perhaps forming a chalk and cheese fighting partnership with Nigel Farage who, let’s be honest, would side with the EU against face-sucking acid-spitting alien psychopaths.
Well, he probably would. They’re illegal immigrants, after all.
It’s never happened, because you can tell the level of public relevance a political institution is held to by whether Hollywood tries to blow it up by alien invasion.
The White House, United States Congress, Houses of Parliament have all had their fair share of punishment rained down upon them from giant alien battlecruisers.
To the best of my knowledge, no alien invasion fleet has ever tried to destroy the European Parliament.
It’s hard to recall any movie or TV series where the European Parliament was involved. One has to go back to the movie “Paris by night” (1985) to recall Charlotte Rampling playing a British member of the European Parliament, and I do vaguely recall that cad and scoundrel Alan B’stard (played by the late Rik Mayall) was an MEP for a short while in “The New Statesman”.
There was even a thriller written in the 1980s called “The Commissioner” about skullduggery in Brussels and written by one Stanley Johnson, father of you-know-who, but the European Parliament is no “West Wing”.
It’s not even “Borgen”.
Well, buckle up. The European parliament is going to become the most exciting place in Europe within the next ten months.
There won’t be any Martians, but there’ll be no shortage of Nazis.
Some weeks ago I speculated in this column that the European elections in May could turn out to be a contest of high drama between the forces of European moderate centrism of left and right and the extremists from the aspiring Venezuela left to the various shades of hard right political opinion across Europe.
That was before the news that Steve Bannon, the Sith Lord of Trumpism, has decided to set up shop in our fair continent in an attempt to repeat the Trump victory in a new European format.
If I was slightly worried a few weeks ago about the future of Europe I am now terrified.
The reality is that a victory for the forces of extremism in the European Parliament is very possible, and it matters.
It’s quite possible that European citizens, in the usual bolshy elbows-out attitude towards their sitting national governments may decide to go rogue in the European elections of next year in the mistaken belief that European elections don’t matter. It did used to be fairly ho-hum, occasionally livened up by the soon to be gone presence of UKIP MEPs, who were always a bit of fun accusing each other of things when they weren’t beating the crap out of each other.
But now things get serious. Voters might well believe that the previously sleepy yawn-and-you’ll-not-miss-it legislature is a cost-free no-consequence slap in the face to home politicians, that votes for extremists in the European parliament is some sort of harmless minor protest.
In the past it might have been, but if voters think that now they are very much mistaken.
The parliament is not the toothless rubber-stamping forum of the past. Successive national governments, stung by criticisms of the EU being undemocratic, kept throwing a few morsels of power down into the dungeon holding the infant parliament, and we’re suddenly surprised when a big beast comes bounding up the stairs years later.
It is a legislature with real power including the power to block the European budget, the power to sack the commission and indeed from the last European elections a very significant if debatable power in terms of deciding who will be the next president of the European commission.
The so-called “spitzenkandidaten” process has a potential to be a nightmare scenario. Spitzenkandidaten is an informal understanding between the main parties in the European parliament that each party shall nominate a candidate for the presidency of the European commission and that the party who forms the largest single group in the post-election parliament then has the right to nominate to the European council that candidate for the job
of succeeding Jean-Claude Juncker.
It’s true that the European treaty which governs the appointment of the president of the commission does not specifically give the power of nomination to the European Parliament.
Instead it says vaguely (on something that you really want to be vague about?) that the European council must “take into account” the results of the European elections.
That could mean anything. That could be the European council perusing a copy of The Times before deciding, but this all comes back down to the composition of the European parliament.
What if the largest block in the parliament is made up of hard-right eurosceptics?
Supposing they nominate say Marine Le Pen or Geert Wilders for president?
If they were appointed, that’s the end of the EU.
If the council were to refuse the nominee of the European parliament we get a constitutional crisis with the democratically elected European Parliament on one side and the in-directly elected European council on the other.
Either way is a democratic crisis.
This is why we need to get it clear right now that the president of the commission will be chosen by the member states, not the parliament.
The next European elections are going to be a battle between the forces of decency and moderation and those who wish to drive Europe back into darker times.
As part of that we need to abandon the spitzenkandidaten process, which has failed to connect democratically with European voters anyway.
I mean, who can name the last Social Democrat candidate?
I can, but that’s hardly something to brag about.
If anything, I should probably keep that to myself.
It’s also absolutely inconceivable that this European Union or its constituent member states should tolerate the interference or even presence of Steve Bannon within the borders of Europe.
He’s not entitled to be here because he’s not a European Union citizen, if anything more like a de facto enemy combatant, someone who is engaged in a open conspiracy with the far-right to destroy this union.
Steve Bannon should not be allowed into Europe.
If we cannot get consent at European Union level, through the Poles or the Hungarians blocking, then it should be up to individual member states.
Simon Coveney should take the lead and say that Steve Bannon will not be welcome in Ireland and that the minister for justice will have him detained and removed from the jurisdiction of this country if he attempts to enter it.
He should be treated as we would someone advocating radical Islamist terrorism or engaged in espionage and removed accordingly.
We may have held back the forces of darkness when Emmanuel Macron defeated Marine Le Pen, but we are going to have to defeat those forces again and again.
We can at least start by recognising the Hydra when we see it.