First school day for pirates, cyclists and Europe haters
With neither eye patch nor wooden leg, a Scandinavian pirate still made a big entrance at the European Parliament in Strasbourg. Dozens of photographers greeted Christian Engström as he arrived for his first day as a Euro MP.Dressed casually in jeans and loafers, the former computer programmer was the first member of the Swedish Pirate Party to take his seat in the chamber, where he plans to use his five-year term to promote internet file-sharing rights in Europe.
Despite the overwhelming attention, Engström didn't seem in the least bit intimated by his first taste of the world of politics, as he took his maiden steps through the rounded glass and steel building in the Alsatian city.
"I expected the attention. I think it's because of the issues we represent.
"Internet politics is a new area and it's important to all of Europe. And obviously, the internet does not have any borders," he said stressing the need for more rights in the digital environment.
Engström was not the only quirky newcomer to the Parliament, where around half of the 736 members are first-timers who were elected in last month's European elections. One MEP wove around the round plenary chamber in skin-tight, red and white cycling gear while his colleagues in suits gawped open mouthed.
"I am not a Eurosceptic, but I do think that reforms are needed to make the EU more efficient," he said.
Sink immigrant boats
Kozusník's message was mild compared to the strident agendas espoused by some of his new colleagues from the extreme fringes of European politics. Jobbik, a Hungarian nationalist party with a paramilitary wing, has proposed a radical approach to the gypsy 'problem', while the newly elected British National Party (BNP) wants drastic measures to fight illegal immigration into Europe.
BNP leader Nick Griffin on Tuesday reiterated recent controversial comments that boats carrying immigrants to Europe should be sunk and their passengers "thrown a life raft to get back to Libya."
"My only regret is that I limited myself only to the Mediterranean, whereas this policy should be extended to the Adriatic and Atlantic coast as well," he told Radio Netherlands Worldwide.
"I don't want these immigrants to die but we can't keep them coming over to Europe in their thousands, with Europeans risking their lives to save them. People expect me to speak frankly and that's what I plan to do here."
Sitting a few metres away from Nick Griffin were the four firebrand members of the Dutch Freedom Party, the anti-Islam group headed by Geert Wilders. Barry Madlener, the party's leader in the Parliament, has called for the seat in Strasbourg to be scrapped. The reason being that the European Parliament is the only institution of its kind to boast two headquarters, and that moving from Brussels to Strasbourg for just one week every month—for the sake of tradition—costs European taxpayers over EUR 200 million a year.
Although most MEPs are against the Strasbourg seat, they are horrified by these anti-European antics. 25-year-old Emilie Turunen from Denmark is the house's youngest member and was bubbling with enthusiasm about her new job as a member of the Green Party.
"I still don't know my way around here," she said while trying to negotiate the bewildering maze of corridors and lifts. "I am just sticking to the route I know!"
But she stresses that she considers being in Strasbourg "a privilege" all the same.