Nigel Farage riles up Tajani and Belgian Prime Minister

European Parliament President Antonio Tajani has angrily clashed with Ukip’s Nigel Farage during a debate in the assembly on the future of Europe.

Charles Michel and Antonio Tajani | Photo credit: European Parliament audiovisual

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

03 May 2018


It comes after Farage dismissed Belgium as a “non-nation” and also said that the EU could only rely on support from those who “are on the EU payroll.”

Tajani, who chaired the debate, was quick to point out that, as an MEP for several years, Farage was himself “on the EU payroll.”

The Italian MEP told Farage, “You are drawing a salary from this parliament like everyone here. You have not forgone your EU payment and the same goes for members of your group. You are on the payroll too.”

Farage replied, “Yes, I voted to leave the EU - I am the Turkey that voted for Christmas.”

Minutes earlier, Farage had angered some members by dismissing Belgium as a “non-country.”

With Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel sat close-by in the main debating chamber, Farage said, “Belgium is not a nation. It is an artificial creation. The truth is that it comprises two countries and two communities who dislike each other intensely.

“Belgium does not have a national tv station, or a national newspaper.”

Michel, however, gave a sarcastic verdict on the withering comments by Farage, telling him, “You are in danger of slipping into populism and nationalism and that is not worthy of your party.”

He added, “I should thank Farage for his good advice on the future of Belgium. He sorted out the future of the UK and look at where that has ended up.”

Michel also referred to the large number of British citizens in Belgium who, in wake of Brexit, are applying for Belgian nationality.

He said, “I am pleased that Belgium citizenship appears so attractive to these Briton some of whom have been here for many years.”

ALDE group leader Guy Verhofstadt, a Flemish MEP and former Belgian Prime Minister, was quick to leap to the defence of his homeland, saying, “For too long Belgium has been the battlefield of Europe for everyone. All the major conflicts in European history have been fought on this land.”

He went on, “Only Europe can save us from the grinding misery of the past. It is not chocolate, beer or Tintin that is typically Belgian but our love for Europe and the EU project, a project that is under threat today because of what is going on with national political leaders who display themselves as pro Europeans to outside world but do nothing to move the project forward. In fact, they are doing the opposite.”

Further comment came from another Belgian MEP, Greens/EFA co-leader Philippe Lamberts, who told Michel, “It’s clear that no country can face huge challenges like climate challenge or the excessive power of multinationals on their own. 

“Yet instead of pushing for tax justice, the Belgian government is working behind the scenes to bury the financial transaction tax, all the while allowing the country to be used as a tax haven for the mega-rich.

“Despite the honourable actions of many Belgian citizens, who have opened their homes to those fleeing war and misery, the government’s attitude to refugees has been appalling.”

The Flemish member said, “On the climate, Belgium should be striving to make the transition to a green economy that is needed to safeguard our climate and sustain our economy; instead Prime Minister Michel prefers to pin his hopes on crumbling nuclear plants.

“If Belgium is to secure a positive future for its people, then it needs a government that will be bold at home and show solidarity with its neighbours.”

Michel, a Liberal politician from Wallonia, welcomed the “lively and intense debate” adding that “Belgium wants to remain the cockpit of this project.”

But he also told the plenary that “Europe has to provide added value for citizens but Brexit is a reality and many member states are becoming more cautious – that is a reality. 

“Brexit constitutes a challenge for the EU 27 and we want to keep close ties with the UK in the future. Michel Barnier (the EU chief negotiator) is doing a good job with the Brexit talks but it has to be clear that if you want to leave the EU club that involves certain consequences.”

Tajani said the debate, the latest in a series of such events featuring EU leaders, was an “attempt to resolve problems facing our citizens.”

The debate was marked by a half empty chamber, with most MEPs opting to stay away, but even so Tajani said, “the fact that the public gallery is full can make us happy.”

 

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