The last plenary session of this policy term is under way in Strasbourg as we all brace for elections set to deliver the least predictable European Parliament yet. But the class of 2014-2019 has not been without its own set of surprises. Here are ten memorable moments that shook this term’s plenary sessions:
- Guy Verhofstadt’s dressing down of Alexis Tsipras
“Show that you are a real leader, not a false prophet!”: In July 2015, ALDE chief Guy Verhofstadt delivered a scathing seven-minute lecture to Greek PM Alexis Tsipras on solving the Greek crisis. The video of the speech went viral, with over 7 million views in several languages in the space of just a few days. The Belgian MEP famously told the Greek PM: “I am angry Mr Tsipras, because let’s face it. We have been sleepwalking towards a Grexit.”
- Nigel Farage on Brexit: “You’re not laughing now, are you?”
On 28 June 2016, a few days after the Brexit vote, Nigel Farage delivered his first-post-Brexit speech to his European peers. Taunting his political opponents and criticising the EU as a “political project in denial”, the then UKIP leader’s speech became notorious for its biting sarcasm: “Isn’t it funny? When I came here 17 years ago and I said that I wanted to lead a campaign to get Britain to leave the European Union, you all laughed at me – well I have to say, you’re not laughing now, are you?” Video credits: Ruptly
- Jaw-dropping sexism, courtesy of MEP Korwin-Mikke
During a debate on the gender pay gap in Europe in March 2017, Polish conservative MEP Janusz Korwin-Mikke caused an uproar by insisting that “women must earn less because they are weaker, they are smaller, they are less intelligent. They must earn less. That is all”. The MEP had also been fined in 2015 for referring to migrants as “human garbage”. The sexist comments earned him a 10-day suspension and 30 days without his daily EP allowance. Video credits: EuroNews
- MEP Alyn Smith’s plea for Scotland in Europe: “Leave a light on so that we can find our way home”
Back to Brexit but from the other side of the sentimental spectrum: Scottish MEP Alyn Smith delivered a touching speech last month pleading for Scotland to keep a place in Europe should it become an independent state. Delivering his (probably) final speech to the European Parliament, the SNP politician stated that “If the European Union didn’t exist, we would have to invent something like it, and Scotland would want to be part of it”.
- Juncker’s outburst at an empty chamber: “The European Parliament is ridiculous”
In July 2017 Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker lost it during a review of the Maltese Presidency – to which only 5% of MEPs bothered to show up. Criticising the MEPs for picking and choosing their participation in debates, the Commission President called the European Parliament “ridiculous, very ridiculous”. He added: “I applaud those who have bothered to turn up. But the fact that there are only about 30 MEPs here for this debate demonstrates that the Parliament is not serious.” Video credits: EurActiv
- … and the Parliament’s crusade against Selmayr
The European Parliament had its own grievances against the European Commission this term, for the controversial appointment of Secretary General Martin Selmayr. After stopping short in March 2018 of adopting an amendment requesting the Secretary General’s promotion to be reversed (in a report which stated that Selmayr’s appointment “could be viewed as a coup-like action”), over 70% of the EP’s plenary supported his resignation in a landslide vote in December last year. The resolution which was adopted had been tabled in support of Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly’s findings, in September 2018, that there had been four instances of maladministration in the appointment procedure.
EU TRANSPARENCY |
— Vocal Europe (@thevocaleurope) March 13, 2018
- Orban and triggering article 7
The European Parliament’s debate and vote on MEP Judith Sargentini’s report calling to trigger Article 7 against Hungary was the first time the EP took a stand directly against an EU Member State. More than two-thirds of the hemicycle backed the motion which aimed to suspend Hungary’s voting rights in Council. The European Commission stood behind the EP’s decision, with VP Frans Timmermans stating in plenary that “to say that criticising the government amounts to criticising a nation or a people, frankly speaking, Mr Orbán, that’s the coward’s way out”.
To say that criticising your government is a criticism of a nation or a people is the coward’s way out Mr Orban. Don’t try to deflect attention. If you make these laws then stand for them and we will debate them. pic.twitter.com/VxwzBA9m0r
— Frans Timmermans (@TimmermansEU) September 11, 2018
- Singing the Marseillaise after the Paris attacks
In November 2015 the European Parliament paid tribute to the victims of the November Paris attacks with a powerful rendition of the Marseillaise. The show of respect and solidarity with the French people, including the French MEPs present in the room, was a deeply moving moment with great symbolic value for the unity of Europe.
- Angela Merkel’s European army
German Chancellor Angela Merkel delivered a much-anticipated speech to the European Parliament in November 2018 calling for a “real, true European army” and a common asylum framework. “The times in which we could fully count on others are somewhat over. That means that we, Europeans, have to take destiny into our own hands.” Echoing French President Emmanuel Macron’s call for a European army the week before, the Chancellor’s speech was also a big overture towards Paris and signalled a renewed Franco-German axis supporting a stronger Europe. Video credits: NBC News
- The standing ovation for Emmanuel Macron
French President Emmanuel Macron’s intervention in plenary was also highly anticipated, as the face of a “European renaissance”. He delivered his own speech on the future of Europe in Strasbourg in April 2018 and although no ground-breaking proposals were made, the French President received a 30-second standing ovation and was embraced by Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker (note that nationalist MEPs remained firmly seated, though).