I normally write in this column about the major political issues of the day, but nothing better encapsulates what’s wrong with the European Union than the curious incident of the sofa in my office.
On July 1, the new MEPs took up our seats and we were shown to our shiny new offices. Everything is luxurious, but utterly grey and soulless: just like the European Union itself.
Each office comes with a wooden unit with drawers, wardrobes and a fold-out sofa built in.
I arrived in my Brussels office, only to find that someone had screwed the sofa shut. Not having a screwdriver of the right size handy, not wanting to risk taking a screwdriver from the UK in case of awkward questions at customs, and thinking it was a straightforward task, I asked for the Parliament’s furniture services to simply come and remove the screw.
“Remove the screw?” I was told, in horror. “But you are a député. You must have a new sofa!” My protests about waste fell on deaf ears.
A couple of months passed, including the August break, and so I chased the matter up at the start of September. I again proffered the suggestion that they might merely send someone to remove the screw, but to no avail.
I don’t spend much time lounging around on sofas in my office; I’m almost always out meeting people. So I didn’t think much more of it until late October when I arrived to find that there were workmen in my office. Excellent, I thought. This madness will finally be resolved.
Later in the day, not only had the sofa been removed but the entire unit was now in the corridor outside my office. The next day, a team arrived and the entire wall was repainted and covered with new wallpaper.
Fast-forward to late December, because absolutely nothing at all had happened in the meantime. The sofa was still there, no doubt a health and safety issue, clogging up the corridor.
It had annoyed one of the senior staff out here so much that she telephoned the furniture services and insisted that the ‘Head of Furniture’ come to my office. He agreed that the situation was unacceptable; it would be fixed right away.
Off the record, I later received a tip-off from someone else that there were language and communications issues. The main languages spoken here are French and English (with a smattering of German, Spanish and Italian thrown in) but that many of the workers speak other languages and aren’t able to communicate well.
By the middle of January I had given up. But this week, almost seven months after I first complained, I turned up to my office to find that there was no longer furniture in the corridor outside.
But there’s still no sign of the new sofa (or any of the storage facilities which I actually needed). I’m curious as to which will happen first: the arrival of the replacement unit, or the end of my term of office in 2019.
It reminds me of the old joke about the Communist country where a man went to buy a new fridge. He was told that it would be delivered 18 years from today. He asked “morning or afternoon?” and was told that it would be there in the morning. “That’s a relief”, he said. “The plumber’s coming in the afternoon.”
This, sadly, is a metaphor for the broken bureaucracy of the European Union. Whereas the screw in my sofa was too tight, the system itself has a screw loose.
Ever wondered why we get such little value for money from the £55+ million we hand over to Brussels every single day from our taxes?
My phone is now broken too. I’m just too scared to tell them...
Jonathan Arnott is Ukip MEP for the North East of England.