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23rd Sep 2018

EU parliament chief shows prickly temper

  • Schulz prompted laughter from MEPs when the rulebook proved him wrong (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

European Parliament head Martin Schulz has accused EU foreign relations chief Catherine Ashton of "disrespect" over an agenda problem.

Speaking at the opening of the session in Strasbourg on Monday (14 January), he said: "Let me make the following remark - in no national parliament in the world would it be thinkable for a member of the government not to attend when summoned."

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He added: "I'm afraid no member of the [European] Commission, no member of the [EU] Council, no high representative can turn around and say 'Oh. I'm sorry, my diary doesn't allow me to come to parliament.' I'm afraid this house isn't going to accept that level of disrespect."

Schulz, a German centre-left MEP, was known for his pugilistic rhetoric before taking up the top post.

He has toned down his style as president.

But his brusque words on Ashton marked a return to form.

Ashton was due to talk to MEPs about EU foreign policy, including on the Mali conflict, on Wednesday.

She offered to do the debate on Tuesday instead because of the likelihood she will host a snap EU foreign ministers' meeting in Brussels on Wednesday on Mali.

Schulz on Monday claimed it was against parliament rules for him to switch the dates.

But the rulebook proved him wrong and Ashton will now address MEPs on Tuesday instead.

"Cathy Ashton has the utmost respect for the European Parliament," her spokesman, Michael Mann, said.

Ashton convened the extraordinary EU ministers' meeting following a French request.

Mann noted that it will consist of an "update [from France] on what's happening on the ground, on planning for our mission, on what we're doing on the political side and on the humanitarian side and it will be a chance for ministers to come up with any concerns they might have."

France on Friday launched air strikes against rebels in north Mali to stop them from advancing on the country's capital, Bamako.

It has received full EU and UN Security Council backing for its action.

Other EU countries are staying out of the fighting. But they plan to send a military training mission to help get Malian troops into shape in late February or early March.

"By intervening in Mali, France has assumed its international responsibility and fulfilled its international obligations. Key interests were at stake for us, for Africa, for Europe and for the entire international community," French foreign minister Laurent Fabius told press on Monday.

For his part, Abou Dardar, a leader of one of the rebel groups, told AFP in Mali that it will react with attacks on French targets "everywhere. In Bamako, in Africa and in Europe."

"France has attacked Islam. We will strike at the heart of France," he said.

Update: This story was updated at 11am CET on Tuesday after the parliament debate was rescheduled for Tuesday

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