Visit to Strasbourg


Written by: Jaka Krajnc

Exploring the inner workings of the parliament

Once a month the entire European parliament hits the road for the mandatory plenary sessions in Strasbourg. This September two JESC interns were present by invitation of  the head of the Linking the Levels Unit, Klemen Žumer.

The main objective of the visit was for the two internes to get a feel for the inner workings of the representative body.  There were also important events on the parliament’s agenda. Following a report presented to the parliament by a Dutch MEP, Judith Sargentini, the parliament voted on invoking the Article 7 procedures towards Hungary. The situation in Hungary was a kind of the leitmotif of this September’s Strasbourg sessions although there was also a State of the Union address from the commission’s president Juncker and a debate with the Greek PM Tsipras.

However, first things first. Arriving at the parliament in Strasbourg, the two interns were met by Mr. Žumer the head of Linking the Levels Unit. They could see right away that Klemen enjoys the platform of high European politics. Often interrupting the tour for a quick greeting of MEP’s and high-ranking media representatives, the interns quickly realized that someone who knows his way around “Brussels” was guiding them.

Exploring the fascinating setting of European politics, Mr. Žumer took the two interns from office to office, explaining the inner workings of the institution. One of the interns, Jaka observed, “Seeing the support facilities, one realizes how much effort is put in from all corners of the building to make the work of the parliament as smooth as possible.

One of the hotspots of the building is the cafeteria, where much of the lobbying takes place. Various languages were audible at the neighboring tables, as the interns witnessed special interest representation from a touching distance.

Moving further thru the hallways of the Strasbourg building while passing important figures of national and supranational politics, it was finally time for the interns to enter the arena.

After listening to a report on the current state of affairs in Greece by Greek Prime Minister Tsipras, it was time for the main reason of the trip, Hungary.  The report presented by the Dutch MEP asserted that Orban’s government, through its new reforms, breached the core of European values. Hindering the work of the Central European University and various media outlets is arguably the main reason for invoking the Article 7 procedures. In his address to the parliament, Orban said, “We have a different view on Christianity in Europe, the role of nations and national culture. Even differences on the essence of the family, and we do have radically different views on immigration” hinting that the Article 7 procedure stands as payback for his migration policies. The exchanges between the progressives and the conservatives was heated. One other figure who was in the spotlight as much as Orban was the EPP leader Manfred Weber.  Having just announced his official candidacy for “Spitzenkandidat” of the EEP and – under the condition that they become the strongest group – for president of the commission, the Orban debate turned into a trial for him. The unpleasant question addressed to him between the lines was, whether he is able to put core European values ahead of party politics. He debated in favour of the report and thereby probably alienated some members of his party group. The vote on the following day would confirm that outcome.

Nevertheless, the vote was not the only important event on the next day’s agenda. The President of the EU commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, gave his last State of the Union address in front of the parliament. Giving a speech, which was more about the future of the EU than about his legacy, he addressed various issues from protecting the core of European values to strengthening the Euro. One topic in particular surprised Maria, one of the interns: “The part of Juncker’s speech about Africa came as a welcome shift in the mind-set of European policy. Recognizing the enormous amounts of Chinese investments in the continent, Europe has to change its approach towards its southern neighbour.

Thanking Mr. Žumer for his invitation the interns assured him, they will incorporate their newly gained knowledge in their work back in Brussels.