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Farage-van Rompuy Row an Unnecessary Distraction from Progress

March 3, 2010

To call the European Parliament a place of excitement is to call a door knob fashionable footwear: it is rarely the case. But tensions flared last week when British MEP Nigel Farage made known his opinions of President of the European Council Herman van Rompuy. Farage, addressing the former Belgian Prime Minister directly, stated van Rompuy had the “charisma of a damp rag” and looked like “a low-grade bank clerk.” He then asked van Rompuy, “Who are you?” before launching into an attack on the President’s anti-democratic intentions.

The sentiment is not necessarily unexpected as van Rompuy’s presidency is a further step away from the aims of Farage’s EU-secessionist UK Independence Party. But the real issue that has emerged is not if Farage had the right to an unsavory opinion of the President, but if he had the right to say what he said.

On Tuesday, Farage met with the President of the European Parliament, Jerzy Buzek, and was fined GBP 2,700. Buzek, a former member of the Solidarity movement in Poland, expressed that while free speech is a right, it comes with the responsibility “to respect the dignity of others and our institutions.”

Farage, however, remains unrepentant. Upon hearing his punishment he Tweeted, “…Free speech is expensive in Brussels.” When asked to apologize to President van Rompuy, the European Parliament, and Belgium, which he referred to as a “non-country” in his tirade, Farage stated, in a somewhat tongue-in-cheek manner, he would only apologize to bank clerks and furthermore lamented the decline of democracy in the EU. He also plans to appeal his fine.

MEP Farage’s comments certainly were more abrasive, especially given it was van Rompuy’s first visit to the European Parliament. Nonetheless, I cannot help feeling that this issue is a self-inflicted distraction for the EU. The European Union has to find its way in the world under the Lisbon Treaty and after being snubbed by US President Barack Obama for the EU-US Summit in Spain, the stakes are higher than ever. Getting hung up on issues of parliamentary decorum will do little to help the EU moving forward.

Here is a video of his full statement:

(Note: From the UKIP YouTube account. Content is, however, legitimate)

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