There are certain things you can learn from a trip to the European Parliament in Brussels.
For one, they serve the soup cold in the members’ restaurant, (The Irish diners were not amused).
Thankfully this culinary disaster is offset by the many Irish pubs that frequent the corners of this administrative capital city.
I visited Brussels during the last week of the World Cup and if it’s Irish beer you want with a wide screen showing RTE, you’ll find it in Brussels.
I was one of a large group of journalists invited to Brussels by the Parliament Information Office in Ireland.
I was the only Northerner on the trip but was joined by journalists from Shannonside FM, the Inish times and the Sligo Champion to name but a few.
We arrived into a gloomy Brussels on a Wednesday night leaving a sultry Ireland behind us.
The next morning we walked the short distance from our hotel to the European Parliament, an imposing building in the heart of this capital city.
Time for some basic statistics.
There have been 766 Members of the European Parliament since Croatia joined the EU in July 2013 but this number was scaled down at the 2014 elections to 751 and will stay at that level in future.
These MEPs represent over 500 million citizens in 28 member states.
The seats are allocated among the various states, by the EU treaties, on the basis of ‘degressive proportionality’, meaning countries with larger populations have more seats than smaller ones but the latter have more seats than strict proportionality would imply.
Britain elects 73 MEPs while Ireland has 11 MEPS, this time electing four Sinn Fein MEPS for the first time, and Martina Anderson who was returned to parliament after topping the poll in the North.
Being a MEP is a highly time consuming role for the Derry woman who divides her time between her home town, Brussels and Strasbourg where the Parliament sits once a month.
Topping the poll in this year’s European elections is something Martina is fiercely proud of, but something she says she never took for granted.
“It was never a foregone conclusion,” she said. “
If anything as part of our political strategy I have been working very hard for the city, for the North West and for the entire island to try and maximise the opportunities.”
Accompanied by MEPS Lynn Boylan and Matt Carthy, Martina told the group of assembled journalists that it was a fantastic feeling to now be sitting in the European Parliament with three other members of Sinn Fein alongside her.
“I can’t even tell you what that means to me even psychologically,” she said.
“We are covering ten committees between us and that just shows you the breadth of the territory that can be covered with the four of us here.”
And she is vocal in expressing her opinion about the recent cut in the budget in Europe.
“This is the first time in 56 years that the European budget has been cut,” she said.
“And as an Irish republican I find it shameful, I think the reaction from the people has been expressed in the people that they have sent back to the European Parliament and I think you will see further reactions because people will just not tolerate politicians making decisions like that about cutting budgets and people can give rationales and explanations about why the decision are made - it is simply not good enough.”
You are always bound to meet a few interesting characters on a trip to the European Parliament - none more so than MEP Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan, who represents the Midlands-North-West Constituency,
Flanagan had the group of journalists captivated for more than an hour - even telling us he would be keeping an eye on MEP Mairead McGuinness, claiming she will not stand up for small farmers.
Within minutes of the meeting ending, McGuinness, who was not present for the meeting, had a written response handed to all the journalists calling on Ming to “develop a coherent argument and rationale of his own to win over others in Europe, rather than seeking notoriety through attacking MEPs”.
It can often be a challenge to get local people excited about Europe.
But as far as Martina Anderson is concerned this is the place where actions can speak louder than words.
This week the Sinn Féin MEP criticised a European Parliament resolution on Israeli attacks on Gaza as ‘woeful’.
Speaking after the European Parliament passed a European People’s Party and Socialists and Democrats resolution on the current violence in Gaza, Ms Anderson said:
“The situation in Gaza is once again at crisis point. Unfortunately however, this joint resolution is a woeful attempt to address the reality of the current conflict.
“It neutralises the conflict to avoid criticising Israel.
“The cosy consensus of European People’s Party and Socialists and Democrats is disgraceful. “
She continued: “Hundreds of Palestinians are dead; more than 1,250 have been injured; 17,000 have sought refuge; 1,300 buildings including hospitals, schools and homes have been destroyed by Israeli bombs.
“This is an appalling carnage. Attacks from both sides should stop immediately.
“The causes of the conflict are ignored in this sham resolution.
“Israel’s collective punishment of Palestinians in the aftermath of the murder of three young Israeli boys, which we all deplore, is not mentioned. The arrest of hundreds of Palestinians which added to tension in the region is not mentioned.
Israel’s impunity over such gross violations must end.”