Security theatre at the European Parliament: letting the terrorists win

This afternoon I tried to go into the European Parliament. The EU institution that is supposed to represent people like me – citizens of the European Union.

I am not a lobbyist or a journalist or an employee of another EU institution. So I could not get in.

I approached the rue Wiertz entrance to the Altiero Spinelli Building and was stopped by the security guards outside. You cannot enter, they told me, because you do not have a pass. I know, I said, I just need to go to the accreditation desk to call the MEP’s office I am visiting (I was to meet the assistant of a French MEP). You cannot even go to the desk they said*. How do I reach them, I asked? With a shrug the security guard pointed to the phone in my hand.

So what is the justification for this, keeping people outside on the street, I asked the guard. The yellow security alert he told me. So the terrorists have won, I responded, and he started to get edgy. “C’est pour votre securité” he told me.

How is this for an impression then? Here I am, as a citizen of the European Union, and the security of the European Parliament is keeping me out on the street.

jonworth_2015-May-29While I was digging around in my phone to find the number of the office I needed to reach, and a dozen or so other people were also milling around in the street, a large car pulled up and parked opposite the EP entrance – as pictured.

The reaction of the security guard?

To tell me off for taking a photo.

Tell me seriously – what is the greater danger? Me there outside the EP being barred for getting just into the building to call an office, or a car that could be full of explosive pulling up outside the building, and parking under the bridge connecting the two halves of the building.

I of course pointed out this absurdity to the security, and the response was “Vous voulez entrez dans le Parlement, monsieur?”

This is not about security. This is about giving an impression of power. It is theatre. The rules are both absurd and do not actually improve security. They do not make the EP look important; they make it look foolish and closed.

By this point the person I was due to meet had come down to fetch me, so as a final step before being accompanied inside I asked the security personnel for their names. I managed to note the name of one of them without him realising and I have reported his rude behaviour towards me, but the other guard hid her EP badge from view when I asked her for her name.

Welcome to the European Parliament. House of the people, where the terrorists seem to have won.

(my tweets from outside the EP earlier are here, here, here, here, here and here).

* – this morning I had a meeting at the Berlaymont, the most important building of the Commission that also houses all the Commissioners. There I explained to the security who I was meeting, they looked into my bag, and I was allowed to proceed to the desk. Why, if the Commission can do it, is the EP incapable of doing so?

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  1. Simon

    Interesting story.
    Your access is refused while Bernd Posselt from the CSU keeps going to the European Parliament even though he did not get reelected!
    German article about it:

    Englisch article I found:–and-keeps-turning-up-to-work-10333102.html

  2. Sarah Thorp

    Hi Jon, interesting post as usual. Did I ever tell you about the time we had a constituency visit? A delegation of 30 Sikhs from Leeds? I don’t think I have ever been so embarrassed. Welcome to the European Parliament!?

  3. Marko

    Jon, great post. As you know I worked in the EP for years and the procedure to get people into the building has always been a waste of time and an embarrassment for those with some common sense. The EP has trains running underground, has a drive-through for cars and has a large parking garage with tickets distributed to several thousands of people, plus daily deliveries of material that go into thousands of tonnes. The actual control at the doors is in place solely for the purpose of keeping “normal people” away from those inside. It’s a bureaucratic monstrosity with no philosophical understanding of democracy.

    Then I got to the US in 2011, so after 9/11 and the Patriot Act. The first time I went to visit a friend in the offices of the Senate (where the Senators actually work) and I was in for a pleasant surprise. Only a scanner, no document check. You appear at the door, you have no gun, no bomb and no knife, and you walk in. As it should be.