Jean De Ruyt, head of the Belgian permanent representation to the EU, has ruffled a few feathers in the European Parliament, marking a more exciting than usual start to his country's turn at the helm of the EU's rotating presidency. (They're all exciting, honest).
MEPs are outraged by comments made by De Ruyt to De Tijd, in which he said:
"The biggest stumbling blocks for the presidency are with the parliament, an incalculable and badly organised partner. You do not know whether the opinion of MEPs is decided by the content of a dossier or by the wish to be seen and show their power. In some matters they do not even know that themselves."
Jo Leinen, German MEP, said that he found the remarks "astonishing". After regaining his composure, he retorted, "Clearly, the problem is that some people have still not come to terms with the new powers now enjoyed by parliament under the Lisbon treaty."
Leinen's valiant attempt to defend the EP from De Ruyt's accusation that it is power mad continued, "There is a new balance of power in the EU but it seems some want to preserve the old dominance of the council."
Err...Jo...think you might have mentioned your "new powers" twice there...
The statesman-like Lib Dem MEP Graham Watson also decided to wade in with a not-too-subtle jibe at Belgium's current political predicament: "The European parliament exists, the Belgian government does not. The Belgians should get their own house in order before they criticise others."
In footballing circles, this would certainly qualify as 'playing the man and not the ball' but, as De Ruyt said, MEPs often give the impression that they are less focussed on the substance of an argument than on simply shouting down any criticism altogether (Some MEPs' treatment of Czech President Vaclav Klaus comes to mind here).
De Ruyt is one of Belgium's most experienced diplomats, having previously been ambassador to Poland and the permanent representative of Belgium to Nato and the UN in New York. Diplomats with CVs as extensive as this rarely speak out of turn and the reaction that De Ruyt's comments have produced would suggest he might well be on to something.