Thursday

19th Oct 2017

Borrell in World War II row with Nordics over Strasbourg seat

European parliament president Josep Borrell has caused anger among Nordic MEPs by suggesting that 'some Nordic country' did not suffer enough during World War II to understand the true meaning of the parliament's Strasbourg seat.

During a signature ceremony for the purchase by the parliament of its own buildings in Strasbourg on Thursday (28 September), Mr Borrell dismissed the "oneseat.eu" petition campaign calling for the abolition of the parliament's second seat in Strasbourg.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • Borrell has stepped on Nordic toes (Photo: European Parliament)

Referring to Strasbourg as a symbol of Franco-German reconciliation after World War II, Mr Borrell said "this historic dimension cannot be perceived in the same way in 'some Nordic country' which did not participate in WWII".

He was apparently moved to make the remarks by the fact that a Swedish MEP initiated the campaign and many Swedes have signed up to it.

However, upset Finnish MEPs took the remark as referring to all Nordic countries and on Friday demanded an apology from Mr Borrell, suggesting he should go back to history class.

Going back to the history books

"His statement that the Nordic countries would not have experienced the war is telling of a really poor knowledge of history," Socialist MEP Riitta Myller told Finnish media, adding she could assist Mr Borrell in his history education.

"It is embarrassing to learn that the speaker of the European Parliament is not sufficiently informed about the continent's history to know that Finland was attacked by Soviet forces in the Winter War", Finnish conservative MEPs said.

Mr Borrell later issued a written statement saying his speech had been misinterpreted.

"There can be no doubt that these countries and its peoples are assured of my full friendship and sympathy for the dramatic and brutal events they lived through in those years," Mr Borrell wrote.

"Obviously I was referring at that moment to one of those countries where there are most petitioners in favour of one single seat - not in Strasbourg - for the European Parliament," meaning Sweden which was neutral during the war.

"To suggest that the President of the European Parliament is ignorant of the history of Europe and had any intention other than to refer to a particular country... demonstrates a certain amount of bad faith and a taste for useless polemics," Mr Borrell wrote in his defence.

"I am nevertheless and in any case truly sorry if the feelings of the Finnish, Danish or Baltic peoples were hurt."

Mixing up the facts

But Mr Borrell's apology has not pleased all Nordic politicians involved in the matter.

"I am deeply surprised and hurt, and I will ask for an explanation of this," Swedish Liberal MEP Cecilia Malmstrom, who first initiated the oneseat.eu campaign, told EUobserver.

"Since when is suffering in World War II a criteria for having permission to speak your mind on EU matters?"

Ms Malmstrom said that the Strasbourg matter is discussed by millions of people all over Europe- something that should keep Brussels happy, as both the commission and member states have called for citizens to present Brussels with their views.

The Liberal MEP also said Mr Borrell had mixed up facts when hinting that more or less only Swedes had signed the anti-Strasbourg seat petition, when in fact more Belgians and Dutch have participated so far.

"I suppose Belgians and Dutch suffered sufficiently in the war, so the argument falls on that, Mrs Malmstrom said.

The issue that won't go away

In May MEPs launched a "citizen's initiative" to collect a million signatures against having a European Parliament seat in Strasbourg. The move was based on a democracy clause in the frozen EU constitution which allows for citizen's to petition the commission on an issue, with a million signatures obliging the commission to consider the issue.

The EU communications commissioner Margot Wallstrom – herself a Swede - has expressed her support for the campaign, saying "something that was once a very positive symbol of the European Union, reuniting France and Germany, has now become a negative symbol - of wasting money, bureaucracy and the insanity of the Brussels institutions."

Last week, however, the Finnish EU presidency announced it would stay away from the touchy subject and would not raise the issue at forthcoming meetings.

The official parliament seat in Strasbourg has been enshrined in the EU treaty since 1992 with any revision requiring unanimous approval of all member states, something France is unlikely to give.

Tusk summits to create new-model EU

Tusk has proposed a series of 13 top-level talks to take forward European reform, but his backing for a multi-speed Europe risks deepening divide.

Catalonia to declare independence in a few days

Spain's king, Felipe VI, said Catalonia's leaders were breaking up the country's unity as hundreds of thousands of Catalans rallied against police violence at Sunday's referendum.

EU Commission's credibility eroding, says Catalonia

A former commission official who now represents the Catalan government says some European commissioners do not agree with the EU commission's official statement on Catalonia's bid for independence from Spain.

Spain points at elections as exit to Catalan crisis

Spanish political leaders called on Catalan separatists to organise regional elections as a way to avoid emergency measures due to be taken on Thursday. That's "not on the table", a Catalan official replied.

Tusk summits to create new-model EU

Tusk has proposed a series of 13 top-level talks to take forward European reform, but his backing for a multi-speed Europe risks deepening divide.

News in Brief

  1. EU summit moved to previous building after fumes scare
  2. Catalonia will 'not back down'
  3. New toxic incident in EU building ahead of summit
  4. Murdered Malta journalist's family invited to Parliament
  5. EU food safety chief denies keeping studies 'secret'
  6. EU states pledge 24,000 resettlement places so far
  7. US ready for arms sale to update Greece's F-16 fleet
  8. Austria's Green leaders step down following election failure

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EU2017EENorth Korea Leaves Europe No Choice, Says Estonian Foreign Minister Sven Mikser
  2. Mission of China to the EUZhang Ming Appointed New Ambassador of the Mission of China to the EU
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsEU Should Seek Concrete Commitments From Azerbaijan at Human Rights Dialogue
  4. European Jewish CongressEJC Calls for New Austrian Government to Exclude Extremist Freedom Party
  5. CES - Silicones EuropeIn Healthcare, Silicones Are the Frontrunner. And That's a Good Thing!
  6. EU2017EEEuropean Space Week 2017 in Tallinn from November 3-9. Register Now!
  7. European Entrepreneurs CEA-PMEMobiliseSME Exchange Programme Open Doors for 400 Companies Across Europe
  8. CECEE-Privacy Regulation – Hands off M2M Communication!
  9. ILGA-EuropeHealth4LGBTI: Reducing Health Inequalities Experienced by LGBTI People
  10. EU2017EEEHealth: A Tool for More Equal Health
  11. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Tourism a Key Driver for Job Creation and Enhanced Competitiveness
  12. CECENon-Harmonised Homologation of Mobile Machinery Costs € 90 Million per Year

Latest News

  1. EU okays Privacy Shield's first year
  2. EU seeks to decrypt messages in new anti-terror plan
  3. EU agencies defend research ahead of glyphosate vote
  4. Spain points at elections as exit to Catalan crisis
  5. How EU can ensure Daphne Caruana Galizia's legacy survives
  6. Juncker dinner to warm up relations with eastern EU
  7. Court hearing in MEPs 'private' expenses battle
  8. The unbearable lightness of leadership

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. ILGA-EuropeMass Detention of Azeri LGBTI People - the LGBTI Community Urgently Needs Your Support
  2. European Free AllianceCatalans Have Won the Right to Have an Independent State
  3. ECR GroupBrexit: Delaying the Start of Negotiations Is Not a Solution
  4. EU2017EEPM Ratas in Poland: "We Enjoy the Fruits of European Cooperation Thanks to Solidarity"
  5. Mission of China to the EUChina and UK Discuss Deepening of Global Comprehensive Strategic Partnership
  6. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceEHLA Joins Commissioners Navracsics, Andriukaitis and Hogan at EU Week of Sport
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council Representative Office Opens in Brussels to Foster Better Cooperation
  8. UNICEFSocial Protection in the Contexts of Fragility & Forced Displacement
  9. CESIJoin CESI@Noon on October 18 and Debate On: 'European Defence Union: What Next?'
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Innovation House Opens in New York to Support Start-Ups
  11. ILGA EuropeInternational Attention Must Focus on LGBTI People in Azerbaijan After Police Raids
  12. European Jewish CongressStrong Results of Far Right AfD Party a Great Concern for Germans and European Jews