The lighter side of life at the European Parliament

06 July 2015

As with most working environments the life of an MEP is not without its funny side and humorous tales.

My fellow Yorkshire MEP Richard Corbett told me of a visit he made in an election to an old folks home.  One of the female residents asked him, “Why’ve we not seen you for such a long time?” To which he replied, “I’ve been away working in Brussels.”  Her face became aghast and her mouth fell open.  She turned to the lady next to and said, “Did you hear that Doris?  He’s been working in brothels!”

At a lunch hosted by the British Embassy earlier in the year a cross party group of MEPs were invited to dine with a group of senior civil servants visiting from London.  Once the introductions were made we began eating and the conversation began to flow.  My North West colleague Teresa Griffin was unavoidably delayed and hence arrived late.  Having introduced herself and apologised for being late she asked if the civil servants would be so good as to introduce themselves again, which they duly did.  Where upon Teresa rounded on the man next to me and said loudly and clearly, “And who are you?” To which, through gritted teeth, came the reply, “I’m Ashley Fox, the Conservative MEP for the South West of England”. Teresa was mortified, Ashley indignant, the civil servants embarrassed but how we MEPs laughed.   

At the end of my first trip to Strasbourg, where we sit once a month as the full parliament, I climbed aboard the plane back.  As I entered a cabin a man in first class, who I recognised as the Maltese Commissioner for the Environment Karmenu Vella, rose to warmly greet me.  Earlier in the week he had spoken to the Environment Committee of the parliament and as substitute member I had been in attendance.  We shook hands.  He was effusive and said how much he was looking forward to working with me.   Behind me the queue to board was building.  I wished him a good weekend.  “And you too, and you too Jonathan”, he replied.  I’d been mistaken for the UK Commissioner Jonathan Hill, Cameron’s recent appointment.  How my Labour colleagues laughed.

With twenty-four different languages in use in the European Parliament linguistic misunderstandings are common.  One classic story is about a debate when a member from Normandy came up with just the right compromise at the right time. One of the French MEPs, using an old French expression, said that this was thanks to “la sagesse normande” (the wisdom of the people from Normandy). The English interpretation rendered this as being “all thanks to Norman Wisdom”. No one of any other nationality could quite understand why the British and Irish members were so amused.

Nor can translation errors be avoided by new “machine translation” computer technology. It’s liable to translate without reference to the context. The expression “out of sight, out of mind” was once rendered by a computer as “invisible lunatic”.

A few months back at a reception hosted by the BBC for all the UK’s MEPs we Labour MEPs, twenty in number, found ourselves rubbing shoulders with UKIP’s then twenty-three MEPs and the Tories' nineteen. After a thoughtful and challenging speech by Andrew Neil, in which he raised the spectre of deflation, the inevitable joshing began as we attempted to score verbal points of each other while all endeavoring to behave ourselves in front of the BBC’s frontline political team.   One of the first to leave was Nigel Farage but he reappeared shortly after having forgotten his briefcase.  “Bit of mistake to leave this with you lot”, smiled Farage. “Oh, yes, you wouldn’t want us to get our hands on that draft manifesto of yours, would you Nigel?” cried out one wit. “Ah, yes”, said Nigel, “and all three pages of it as well”, as he disappeared out of the door, only for his head to reappear, “And”, he grinned, “they’re blank”.  Much as I dislike his politics, he can make people laugh.  Will he have the last laugh?  Only time will tell.

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