‘Ode to Joy’ as old hands show newbies Europe’s parliamentary ropes

Members of the UK Independence Party turned their back to the EU flag

European Parliament President Martin Schulz reacts after his re-election at the European Parliament in Strasbourg yesterday. Reuters/Jean-Marc Loos

European Parliament President Martin Schulz reacts after his re-election at the European Parliament in Strasbourg yesterday. Reuters/Jean-Marc Loos

 

It was a case of first day of school for Ireland’s newly elected MEPs yesterday as the first session of the eighth European Parliament got under way in Strasbourg.

As Irish MEPs took their seats in the vast chamber, the old hands were spotted giving a helping hand to the new recruits, with Mairead McGuinness busily chatting to party colleague Brian Hayes.

Some of the class of 2014 were missing for the first session, however – Brian Crowley was unable to take his place alongside his new colleagues in the European Conservative and Reformists group, while Luke “Ming” Flanagan, who has been spotted in Brussels, was late to Strasbourg yesterday afternoon as his wife was ill.

Old colleagues chatted and new MEPs bewilderedly looked around one of their new parliamentary homes for the next five years.

The opening session was not without controversy. Members of the UK Independence Party turned their back to the EU flag as Beethoven’s Ode to Joy was played by an orchestra that had impressively managed to ensconce itself in the chamber.

Official act

Martin SchulzEuropean Commission

Indeed, the triumph of the Spitzenkandidat system, which saw the parliament’s political groups nominate the European Commission president for the first time, was seized upon by Mr Schulz in his opening speech. Noting with pride that a German word had entered the European lexicon, the German Socialist said the Spitzenkandidat system is a process that “will cause major changes in Europe”. As if that wasn’t enough to worry the EU’s other two institutions who are already wary of the European Parliament’s new powers, he added defiantly that the role of the parliament was “to keep tabs on the executive after the election”.

There was the expected reference to the challenges that remain for Europe, such as youth unemployment and austerity.

Meanwhile, Ireland’s MEPs, who got keys to their offices yesterday, were preparing for their appointments to the all-important committees, with membership to be confirmed in the coming days.

Though Ireland has one of the smallest representations in the parliament, it has one statistic it can be proud of. It has one of the highest proportions of women MEPs in its delegation at 55 per cent.

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