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Last hurrah in Strasbourg for MEPs retiring after elections

Those seeking re-election in June face several nervy weeks

For the last time in the life of this European Parliament, a small group of politicians, their staff and officials packed up and made the journey down to Strasbourg this week for the final voting session of the term.

MEPs who are retiring could treat the excursion as a relaxing farewell lap, while those seeking re-election face several nervy weeks to find out if they still have a job. You could forgive the latter for having itchy feet and wanting to get back home on the campaign trail for the European elections, which take place in the second weekend of June.

Realistically they have been in electioneering mode for months, but the casting of the last votes on Thursday is in some respects the starting gun on the campaign proper, as the public begins to tune in to the debate in the coming weeks.

Opinion polls point to the next parliament having a significantly larger presence of far-right MEPs, with big gains predicted for the National Rally led by Jordan Bardella in France, Alternative für Deutschland in Germany and Geert Wilders’s Freedom Party in the Netherlands.


That means a shrinking of the middle ground that makes up the current working majority to pass laws, which usually comprises the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), centrist Renew and the centre-left Socialists and Democrats. The Green grouping in parliament is also predicted to suffer big losses in the elections. Strasbourg would be “the last supper” for some, one MEP jokingly told me.

There is a sense that contentious laws that failed to squeeze through the gap by the end of this week face as uncertain a future as several of the politicians involved in drafting them. The debate on any proposed legislation carried over into the next five-year cycle will be taking place in a new political reality. If the far-right surge materialises, the centre ground of the next parliament will nearly certainly shift rightward.

Perhaps as a result there was a record number of votes during this final plenary session in Strasbourg. The parliament has met in the French city near the German border since the 1950s, when it was the assembly of the European Coal and Steel Community. While that means politicians and officials have to periodically pack up and move down from Brussels for several days, the co-location is written into an EU treaty so won’t be changing anytime soon.

Among the omnibus of votes this week, MEPs passed a law firming up consumer rights around the repairs of goods like smartphones, as well as a ban on the sale of products in the EU found to be made by forced labour. There was also a vote approving better conditions for gig economy “platform” workers, such as Just Eat or Deliveroo delivery riders.

There will probably be a few heads slightly worse for wear during the last hours of debates and votes on Thursday, given the well-populated calendar of farewell social events the evening before. A cross-party association for MEPs put on an end-of-term reception, somewhat hopefully titled “good bye & see you soon”, at its villa a few minutes walk from the parliament. Invites sent to politicians promised a “refined cocktail reception” on Wednesday evening, with finger food from the local Alsace region and a DJ playing what was billed as a “European playlist”.

The Left parliamentary group got an even earlier start, having organised a drinks-clinking to celebrate the passing of the law around better rights for ride share and food delivery app riders, scheduled for 1pm. Jan Olbrycht, a Polish EPP member who is retiring after 20 years in the parliament, organised his own farewell cocktail reception on Wednesday evening, while Philippe Lamberts, a colourful Green from Belgium who is stepping down after 15 years as an MEP, put on a similar leaving do.

The MEPs in tight races hoping to return will not be the only ones sweating in the run-up to the elections. Often overlooked are their teams of staff, some of whom have made Brussels their home over recent years.

Those whose bosses are retiring or at risk of losing their seats will be polishing up their CVs. Popular options would include openings in the offices of other MEPs, civil society organisations, lobbyists or jobs working directly for EU institutions. Competition for these spots in the shake-up after the June elections may be just as much of a dogfight as the one facing politicians on the ballot paper.