aspI’m just home after having endured one of the most unpleasant experiences I can remember in an EU institution. Really remarkable.

I’ve had meetings in the European Parliament on two consecutive days (yesterday and today) with two different British MEPs. When signing in for the visitor’s pass at the ASP building yesterday I said I would return today for a meeting with a different MEP, and was it therefore possible to have a pass for 2 days. Yes, the lady at the desk said, you will just have to be accompanied by a member of staff (i.e. the assistant of the MEP on the second day). So on the first day in I went. Security had a problem with my computer, wanting to log its serial number on one of their forms. No clue why – if I were a hacker I could disguise myself online anyway. I suggest it’s rather in order to keep more security staff employed. But anyway, procedure was followed.

I returned this morning, and met some other guests of the second MEP at the entrance. It took a full 45 minutes for them to get passes as apparently the rules for which assistants are allowed to sign in MEPs have now changed. I’m OK, I said to the assistant today, I have the pass from yesterday. All you have to do is accompany me.

No, oh no. A nasty little slimy snake of a security man by the name of Vincent Chiarappa wanted to do the petty bureaucratic thing and not only inspect all visitors’ visitor passes, but check all the names of visitors matched the names of the MEPs listed on the passes. Contrary to what I had been told on the first day apparently visitors have to be accompanied by a staff member of the same MEP, not the assistant of any MEP. As my name was not on the paper for the right MEP (although I had a badge AND someone to accompany me) there was no way Mr Chiarappa was going to let me past.

“You have to leave and sign in again!” was his reply. Sorry, to stand in a queue for another 45 minutes? “Can we call the other MEP’s office and get someone to come down and accompany Jon inside?” was met with a “No, no calls from here, you have to leave”. The question of why the person issuing the badge had given the wrong information (if it even is wrong?) was met with the startling response “They work in another team”. Yes, Chiarappa, they work about 20 metres away from you! He was ignorant, rude, unhelpful and downright obstructive.

No amount of reason could change his mind, and indeed an increasingly heated argument in French and English ensued, leading him to the point of saying he would have the security expel me from the Parliament. Just before this happened the assistant of the first MEP had been summoned and could accompany me in, not before Chiarappa had noted my name and the assistant’s name on a scrap of paper. 1 hour after arriving I managed to get to my meeting.

Seriously, what the hell is this? There are security rules, fine. But how can two security people working 20m from each other not apply the same rules? How can any sensible and pragmatic solution to the issue (calling the first MEP’s office) be met with a flat no? It’s not as if the European Parliament is very secure anyway, and three of the other guests went in with laptops without security noting any serial numbers in the way they had for me on the first day.

As a citizen on the European Union the European Parliament is there to serve me. I am not a taxpayer just in order to keep people like Vincent Chiarappa in a job. I want a quick and efficient application of the rules and indeed the security as a whole, and a flexible and pragmatic approach in the case of difficulties. The European Parliament security personnel are not even remotely close to achieving this.

19 Comments

  1. @adam – I am very far from being an anti-European. Anyone that cares about the European Union (as I do) should hope the institutions can get basics like this working. Sadly it’s far from being the case.

  2. Jon,
    The key point in your defence is that you were ot using privilaged access – indeed friom what you right hardly access at all.

  3. I believe they were letter bombs, and they got in through the mail room.

  4. Um, didn’t they have a bomb in the EP at one point? How did they get in? A mystery.

  5. pacific_waters

    “As a citizen on the European Union the European Parliament is there to serve me.” I didn’t see that in my copy of Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Must have missed it.

  6. sounds like you are an anti european

  7. What is astonishing here is your bewilderment in the first place. This may have woken you up but you’ve yet to smell the coffee.

  8. Helene Davidson

    Now you know what Europe will be like once the EU finally gets its hands on ALL the levers of power remaining outside its control. A complete, bureaucracy-driven nightmare. Citizens of EU have rights? Give me a break. Like a mouse has a right to find crumbs on the floor.

  9. I know how you feel… wasting of time. In addittion, why MEPs has not to pass the security and assistants either? To me should everyone or noone. no exceptions!

  10. James Burnside

    Hi Jon, I don’t know the guy and I’m not defending him, just suggesting possible reasons why you might find yourself in such a situation on that particular occasion. The actual reasons may be completely different, and by your account he was singularly unpleasant and obstructive. Perhaps he was the boss, or at least the most senior person from the contractor at that entrance, but equally I could imagine that, were he in a precarious situation such as being “on a warning”, he would wish to avoid his boss being made aware of such an issue.

    As you say, the problem is a general one with parliament’s/contractors’ staff, and I would argue that lack of training and poor working conditions for the staff at the “sharp end” are the basis for inconsistent application of the rules. Moreover, on the security question – whether the current rules are sensible, appropriate, proportionate to the threat is a different question entirely – a big problem in applying them consistently is that the people they are supposed to protect, members and their staff, are the worst offenders when it comes to bending or trying to circumvent them.

    It seems to me that the the lady on the first day is at least as guilty as the guy in question, if not more so, of not applying the rules to the letter, yet you don’t name her. Presumably since you didn’t have a lengthy confrontation with her, you didn’t bother to look at her badge to find out her name.

    If, for a hypothetical example, an MEP pushed in front of you in the queue at the coffee bar, and told you to “wait for your betters” before being served, then I would have no qualms about you naming and shaming him on your blog. But in this case, there’s clearly a problem with the system, yet you personalise the argument based on one specific experience. I’m not sure that this is the right route to go down. As a blogger one could derive a great deal of satisfaction from naming and shaming every jobsworth that hinders one going about one’s business, but does it help solve the root problems? On the other hand, perhaps the guy just decided he didn’t like you and was going to be awkward come what may, so maybe he deserves to be named. And for all I know the guy has his own blog and is on facebook and is even now preparing a devastating riposte on here 😉

  11. @James – please note here: I don’t actually have a problem with the rules. I have a problem with rules that are inconsistently applied, and when inconsistently applied, the blame is put onto me.

    Warning from the boss – he claimed he was the boss when I asked to speak to his superiors. If he had not said that I would not have named him here.

    The guy in question most probably is a contractor, but this whole thing is a symbol of a wider staffing malaise inside the European Parliament – it also applies to the staff that work for the EP secretariat and the group secretariats at the very least. The place is simply not functional in staffing terms. In the main it seems to me that people are not happy in their jobs, they treat each other badly, and they treat members of the general public with disdain.

    The European Parliament needs to take a look at itself – from the security staff upwards – because the way the staffing is currently organised is far from acceptable.

  12. James Burnside

    Jon, you’re obviously pissed off at the time wasted and attacking the institution for that is one thing, but why name the guy; do you think he’s going to come on here and justify his actions? He was almost certainly following the rules correctly – albeit in best jobsworth manner. Maybe he’d just had a warning from his boss for being lax, maybe they’d just had instructions to tighten up. The chances are that you could have got in with the badge from the previous day on just about any other occasion, you just got unlucky.

    The first day’s MEP would be responsible for whatever you do in the parliament’s buildings, and is supposed to ensure you’re accompanied at all times and then escorted off the premises. Of course the rules are flouted/bent etc. all the time, so although the first day’s security guard was, I’m pretty sure, technically wrong, on most occasions there would have been no problem.

    I presume the guy is an employee of a security contractor, not of the parliament itself. The situation you experienced is more a question of lack of training, poor supervision and inconsistency due to the contractor bidding low and thus not having the margin to do the job properly. Staff on those kinds of contract are paid poorly, and enjoy pretty shit terms of employment (have you heard about the catering staff who are laid off in August because the canteen’s shut while fonctionnaires swan off on their holidays?), not to mention getting treated like dirt by many of the people they come across (and I’m not referring to you, btw).

    Of course if this guy is an employee of the parliament then the foregoing doesn’t apply to this case.

  13. quarsan

    Go to the other entrance and slip the guy at the metal detector 10 euros. That’s how I get in without any problems.

  14. @Tanja: The assistants are not employed by the EP, but by the individual Members.

  15. While I have heard many stories already about EP secuirty personnel I have to say I never had any problem so far. The visitor accreditation always took 2-3 minutes but then everything went smoothly.

    It is true, however, that the passes are only *per MEP* and that the laptop checks are quite random. If you had a look at the form for the laptops you could see that they would never be able to quickly check a specific serial number (MAC address to be technically correct) out of the thousands of paper forms they must have already.

  16. Have you gone to the Quaestors with this?

  17. The most ridicolous part for me: why would you need to call the assistant from the first day if you are anyway accompanied with another assistant who’s employee of the EP? I agree that some of the “guards” are really rude, you just get the feeling that they are the most important in that building…

  18. Hmmm, yes. But I am now awaiting a legal threat from the EP for having named one of their employees without 55 forms filled in in quadruplicate to give me the permission to do so… 🙁

  19. lol, very good example of why you shouldn’t mess with a blogger 😉

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