Last night, Jerzy Buzek, President of the European Parliament, opened the EU’s new British headquarters in central London. The cost of buying and renovating 32 Smith Square, as Britain’s press have been keen to point out, is estimated to be in the region of £30 million. Perhaps even more galling to those of a Thatcherite eurosceptic mindset is the fact that 32 Smith Square was once Conservative Central Office. The Iron Lady, who herself leaned out of its windows to wave at supporters having won the 1987 general election, is surely displeased by the building’s reincarnation as Europe House. Her mood would not have been improved had she been at LSE yesterday to hear Mr Buzek speak before the official opening, where he promised to wave out of the very same window because “I believe in Europe.”
The former prime minister of Poland’s enthusiasm for the EU is no secret – he is more ‘Yes, yes, yes!’ than Lady Thatcher’s ‘No, no, no!’ - and he reiterated his case last night. Having argued that Europe House will save the taxpayer money in the long-term by housing both Parliament and Commission officials under one roof, he praised the whole European project as “something absolutely wonderful.” By way of comparison, he described Poland’s “sad, grey times” under Soviet domination, when lemons were only available at Christmas and a year as a student in Cambridge convinced him that “everything must be changed” in his own country. Mr Buzek went on to become a leading figure in the Solidarity movement, and knows better than most about Poland’s troubled relationship with Moscow. Yet when asked at the LSE last night about his attitude to EU-Russia relations now, his determination to forge a productive partnership was striking: “Russia is a European country, I believe it very strongly,” he said, hailing his “great discussions” with President Medvedev: “It is a European country with a lot of threats in front of it and a very long border with China.”
Mr Buzek certainly doesn’t convince everyone with his dedication to all things Brussels. Nor will everybody share his confidence that the eurozone will survive the current crisis, grow stronger and gain new members, perhaps including Britain, while following his prescribed new mantra of “no solidarity without responsibility”. Yet at a time when much of Europe is looking inwards, pointing fingers and falling out of love with each other, it is important that somebody continues to think about the EU’s relationships with the rest of the world and believe in engagement with its strategically vital neighbours to the east. And nobody is happier to fly the EU flag than Mr Buzek, whether in Russia or from the window of Lady Thatcher’s former citadel.
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