First school day for pirates, cyclists and Europe haters

First school day for pirates, cyclists and Europe haters

20th July 2009, Comments 0 comments

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.
Sweden's Pirate Party deputy leader and European parliament candidate Christian Engstrom arrives at his campaign station on 7 June 2009 in Stockholm during the European parliament elections
Lycra man
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 had to keep my promise to my voters," Edvard Kozusník grinned. The Czech MEP and sports enthusiast pledged to cycle over 870 km from Prague to Strasbourg to arrive in time for the opening session. But he said he planned to do much more than promote cycling in the EU. As a member of the newly formed group for European Conservatives and Reformists, led by the British Tories, Kozusník said he was "on a mission to cut out bureaucracy" in the EU.
"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 Edvard KozusníkBrussels to Strasbourg for just one week every month—for the sake of tradition—costs European taxpayers over EUR 200 million a year.
Bewildering maze
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.

Vanessa Mock
Radio Netherlands


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