Usually, the Commission’s midday press conference in Brussels is rather quiet when Commission officials are in Strasbourg for a plenary session of the European Parliament.
But not this time.
A day after the President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker called the Parliament “ridiculous” and “not serious” after just 30 MEPs turned up for a debate with the Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, journalists wanted to know what this meant for Juncker’s relationship with the Parliament.
His statement and tough exchange with the President of the European Parliament Antonio Tajani went viral on Tuesday as the spat become the talk of the EU bubble. The video of the exchange on the Commission’s broadcasting service alone was watched over 154,000 times.
“The President is a friend of the European Parliament,” said the Commission deputy spokesman Alexander Winterstein adding “sometimes friends are telling each other truths not easy to hear. That is what friends are for.” The spokesman added Juncker regretted using the word “ridiculous.”
But Winterstein also explained Juncker was making the point that MEPs should not just be there to hear the leaders of big powerful countries. It was also important to do that courtesy to smaller countries too. Particularly those in charge of the 6-month rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union — like Malta, whose run in the hot seat has just ended.
“[Juncker] believes this kind of debate is a very important moment in the European Union democratic life,” said Winterstein.
He said work was ongoing with Tajani to improve MEPs’ attendance for some debates with top officials. Asked whether European commissioners discussed the topic at their weekly meeting Tuesday in Strasbourg, Winterstein said he believed Juncker’s statement was “self-explanatory.”
On the subject of the proposed independence referendum in Catalonia, Winterstein said the Commission would not comment on either the vote itself or on whether it would threaten Barcelona’s chances of hosting the European Medicines’ Agency — as has been reported by Spanish media. The EU agency will need to move its headquarters from London because of Brexit.
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