There has been double pomp and circumstance in Strasbourg.
A short ceremony marked an important thirtieth anniversary for the European Parliament – three decades of the people choosing their MEPs by direct universal suffrage – and there were preparations for the new sitting of the new parliament, elected last month. But there is a combative mood around the corridors of power which could hamper new laws intended to fight Europe’s worst economic crisis for generations. The former Polish Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek is getting ready to take up the reins as President of the assembly. But the enthusiam before the opening of parliament belied the overwhelming apathy of the last election. Turnout was a record low. The number of seats has been cut to 736 – and of those the centre-right parties emerged the winners on June 8th. But although they are the strongest single force, they do not have an outright majority. The centre-left are the second biggest group on 159, with the liberals in third. Hans Gert Poettering performed one his last tasks as the outgoing President of the European Parliament – handing out medals to the outgoing MEPs. Those who are due to take up their seats will delay a decision to re-appoint Jose Manuel Barroso as President of the European Commission – even though he’s backed by all 27 EU governments. Its defiance is intended to show that the European Parliament has muscle.