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What is a Quaestor

We have just completed the crazy horse-trading that comes at mid-term in the European Parliament session. We are half way through and all senior positions were up for grabs.

It’s a quaint detail of the administration of the European Parliament, but the position of Quaestor is much sought after. In ancient Roman times, the position of Quaestor was a first step on the political ladder but a lowly one all the same. A rival would often be appointed Quaestor somewhere obscure like Sardinia to get rid of them - like being appointed parish priest on Craggy Island.

It reminded me of the time Bertie Ahern appointed me Chair of the Joint Administration Committee in 2007. It felt at the time that he made up the position to keep me quiet - a form of political anesthetic, as Brian Lenihan told me.

The most important position we voted on last week was President of the European Parliament. This position is equivalent to Ceann Comhairle. The successful candidate was from the EPP group, a Maltese MEP called Roberta Metsola. I was happy to vote for her.

The fun and games started when we had to vote later in the afternoon for 14 Vice Presidents. As no political group has a majority and no two groups together form a majority, there was a lot of negotiations. However, as the vote is a secret ballot, the chances of any agreement being honoured was always remote. You are dealing with politicians after all.

As it happened our group got only one person elected in the first ballot. We felt we had been shafted by the Socialists. To get our remaining two candidates over the line in the second ballot involved doing a deal with the right wing group ECR. Their candidate Roberts Zile is an MEP from Latvia. The question of whether to do a deal with the ECR triggered an extraordinary debate in our group.

Zile is a controversial figure having allegedly attended a Waffen SS commemoration in Latvia.

The nuances of history came up in the debate as speakers explained how partisans in eastern Europe were sometimes more fearful of Stalin’s Soviets than they were of Hitler’s Nazis. One MEP pointed out how his grandfather had been killed by Soviets while another spoke about the bitter memories of life in the old GDR.

One speaker said that ‘the cemeteries are full of heroes who had principles but to win the war you have to have tactics.

The clear implication of this speaker’s contribution was that politics should trump principle.

On the side of principle was one French MEP, Pascal Durand, who made an excellent speech describing briefly how he came to be a member of our group and how, whatever else he was going to do as an MEP, he would never vote for a Fascist and would never betray his principles on this point.

I decided to do a bit of research into this matter.

Back in 2010, the then UK Foreign Secretary, David Miliband raised the matter of Zile’s attendance at a Waffen SS commemoration while addressing the Labour Party Conference. How could the Tories, he asked, align with Latvians in the European Parliament who had attended these events.

However, Zile is viewed as moderate and highly capable in Riga, according to the Guardian.

The event marked a day when Latvians took the fight, albeit in Nazi uniform, against the Soviet occupation.

William Hague, the Tory MP wrote to Miliband to say, “the American Displaced Persons Commission declared in 1950 that ‘the Waffen-SS units of the Baltic States (the Baltic Legions) are to be seen as units that stood apart and were different from the German SS in terms of goals, ideologies, operations and constitution, and the Commission does not, therefore, consider them to be a movement that is hostile to the government of the United States”.

In the end, I voted for Zile in the second ballot without much enthusiasm.

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