Row over EU official’s Sweden war comments

A campaign by Swedish Liberal MEP Cecilia Malmström to end the monthly Strasbourg session of the European Parliament has led to a row between the speaker of the parliament and the Nordic countries.

The speaker, Josep Borrell, claimed that Sweden did not suffer enought during the Second Ward War to understand the true meaning of the parliament’s Strasbourg base. The claim has enraged leader-writers on Sweden’s newspapers, who were asking whether Borrell really meant that countries who didn’t fight in the war should have less of a say in EU matters.

“Borrell didn’t fight in the war himself – he was born 1947,” wrote Kristian Karlsson in Svenska Dagbladet.

“But nobody has suggested that his entirely peaceful upbringing should exclude him from political debate,”

The row started last Thursday when Borrell, a Spaniard, claimed that the parliament is a symbol of Franco-German reconciliation, adding that “this historic dimension cannot be perceived in the same way in ‘some Nordic country’ which did not participate in World War II.”

The backlash against Borrell started immediately in the other Nordic countries, which lost the gist of Borrell’s attack in translation and failed to see that he was referring to one particular Nordic country, rather than to them all. Finnish MEPs were particularly upset by the perceived ignorance of their country’s suffering in the war.

Borrell’s subsequent attempts to clafify remarks have merely inflamed the debate. While he assured those Nordic countries that had participated in the war of his “friendship and sympathy,” he underlined that he was referring to “one of those countries where there are most petitioners in favour of one single seat – not in Strasbourg – for the European Parliament.”

Dagens Nyheter’s Marianne Björklund reacted furiously to Borrell’s remarks. Should Swedes have less of a say on the EU because we weren’t involved in the Second World War, she asked.

“Borrell doesn’t say how much suffering is required for a person’s vote to count,” she wrote.

Cecilia Malmström herself has now written a letter of protest to Borrell, in which she points out that most of the 1 million signatures on her ‘Oneseat’ petition come from Dutch citizens. She also said she was “confused” by his references to World War II.

“The ‘Oneseat petition is for Europe, for France, and for every other European country,” she insisted.

Meanwhile, even if Malmström’s efforts fail to shut down the Strasbourg parliament, they could still pay dividends for the MEP herself, as she is a hot tip to be named a minister in Sweden’s new government.

The European Parliament has often been referred to as a ‘travelling circus’, for its practice of moving from its normal base in Brussels for meetings three days a month at a separate parliament building in Strasbourg. The practice costs €200 million a year, but can only be ended by unanimous agreement among EU members. France is thought certain to veto any attempt to shut the Strasbourg venue.