Jean-Claude Juncker: ‘The Parliament is ridiculous’

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker berated the European Parliament on Tuesday, calling the body “ridiculous” and accusing it of showing a lack of respect for smaller countries after only tiny fraction of MEPs showed up for a speech by the Maltese prime minister.
“I salute those that have taken the trouble to be in the room,” a visibly furious Juncker began his remarks to the largely empty chamber in Strasbourg.
“The European Parliament is ridiculous, very ridiculous,” Juncker said. “The fact that about 30 MEPs are seated in this debate is enough to show that the Parliament is not serious.”
Juncker’s sharp rebuke sparked a multilingual clash with Parliament President Antonio Tajani, who angrily defended Parliament, saying it controlled the Commission not the other way around, At first, Tajani implored Juncker in Italian:  “I beg you to have a respectful behavior.”
Juncker, who slapped the air angrily with his hands as he spoke, was having none of it.
“There are only a few members,” he shot back at Tajani, switching to English from French. “There are only a few members in the plenary to control the Commission. “You are ridiculous! I want to pay tribute to the Maltese.”
Tajani pushed back, now switching to French, perhaps so Juncker would understand him better.  “I ask you to use different language,” he said lamely. “We are not ridiculous!”
Despite Tajani’s protests, Juncker refused to back down from his criticism.
As each man landed his rhetorical blows, a weak smattering of applause echoed in the mostly empty hemicycle. The first debate of the day was to supposed to be a review of Malta’s recently-completed six-month presidency of the Council of the EU.
Instead, it became an unseemly inter-institutional fight.
Such squabbles are not uncommon, and in many respects unavoidable given the EU thrives on having a multitude of institutions and an even bigger multitude of egos.
But EU leaders have been working extremely hard in recent months to maintain a high level of unity as they confront the twin challenges of Brexit and a wave of right-wing populism — and they have largely seemed to be succeeding. Pro-European candidates have emerged victorious in a string of elections, including in the Netherlands and France, and the EU has seemed to take the upper hand in the early stages of negotiations with the U.K.
But Juncker’s fury over the the fact that perhaps just 30 of the 751 MEPs managed to attend the plenary for the speech by Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscatapparently overwhelmed his normal efforts to portray the bloc as working in tight cohesion for the benefit of European citizens.
Juncker was clearly unhappy as he sat in a seat near the well of the hemicycle, his chief of staff, Martin Selmayr, perched behind him, and an array of papers, a croissant, coffee and water on the table in front.
The video of the session shows far more staff members than MEPs in attendance, with only four MEPS clearly visible among the scores of seats visible to the cameras.
Among the punctual MEPs present to hear Juncker and Muscat speak were: the president of the Greens group, Philippe Lamberts, who is Belgian; Tanja Fajon, a Socialist from Slovenia; and David Casa, a Maltese member of EPP.
Despite Tajani’s protests, Juncker refused to back down from his criticism.
“I will never again attend a meeting of this kind,” said Juncker. “The Commission is under the control of the Parliament, but the Parliament has to respect even the presidencies of smaller countries, what the Parliament is not doing. I wanted to pay tribute to the Maltese government and the prime minister.”
Juncker, who is a former prime minister of Luxembourg, had said earlier that he believed the absence of MEPs was a clear sign of disrespect to Malta, the smallest EU country. He added that if German Chancellor Angela Merkel or French President Emmanuel Macron had been giving a speech instead, “We would have a full house.”
The Parliament’s internal rules require the current 751 elected members to attend plenary sessions once a month in Strasbourg. MEPs must sign an official register to prove that they are sitting in plenary and to receive a flat-rate allowance of €306 per day to cover their expenses during these sessions.
“People come here to sign the attendance registry, vote and then they leave” — a Parliament official 
“If a Member does not take part in more than half of the roll-call votes on voting days in plenary the allowance is halved, even if the Member is present,” the Parliament’s rules say.
Despite all this, the Parliament has grappled with MEP absenteeism in plenaries for years.
“People come here to sign the attendance registry, vote and then they leave,” said one Parliament official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The hemicycle room is often half-filled when the Commission and Council hold their debates on Tuesday or Wednesday mornings. On June 12, the room was about 50 percent full when Juncker gave a speech in plenary along with Helena Dalli, Maltese minister for social dialogue.
On Tuesday morning, however, even the presidents of the two biggest political groups didn’t show up for Muscat’s speech. Gianni Pittella, the president of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, was “at a sit-in organized by an NGO,” and then met with European Health and Food Safety Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis “until 9:30 a.m.,” according to an official from the S&D.
The whereabouts of Manfred Weber, the leader of the European People’s Party (EPP) — the largest group — were not immediately clear.
An official from the EPP said Weber’s group would hold an internal debate on absenteeism in the plenary on Wednesday, prompted by the low turnout when Hilda Heine, president of the Marshall Islands, came to address MEPs in June, and similarly ended up speaking to a ghost chamber.
“She had spent maybe 18 hours on the plane and very few people showed up in plenary,” the official said.
By midday on Tuesday, however, the chamber had nearly filled up.
Jean-Claude Juncker: ‘The Parliament is ridiculous’ Jean-Claude Juncker: ‘The Parliament is ridiculous’ Reviewed by Alexander Von Stern on 04:56:00 Rating: 5