Both pragmatic and surprising, the series Parliament – directed by Noé Debré and broadcast since 9 April on France.tv (the ten episodes are available in replay) offers us to discover the daily life of MEPs, assistants and advisers in the European Parliament from the point of view of a young parliamentary assistant.
Parliament is a daring challenge to turn a world often perceived as cold and unfamiliar – the European institutions – into a comical and familiar universe.
Like one of his characters, Parliament chose to ” focus on the vices ” of its subject for the sake of efficiency. The viewer meets Samy, a young parliamentary assistant starting out in the Brussels parliament, whose naivety and carelessness will come up against the harsh political and institutional logic. Thus, the complexity of European bureaucracy becomes a source of comedy.
We cannot blaime the main protagonist for his first staggering and hesitant steps within this overwhelming institution, nor for his gaps about such a complex institutional mechanism (who would have guessed that you could come across lobbyists within the Lobby). Luck turned to his disadvantage when he realised that his new mentor – a centrist French MP – had little to do with European politics and the work he has to handle for the notorious Fisheries Committee. It will therefore be up to the young man to stand on his own two feet if he wants to make his visit to Brussels a landmark event.
Fortunately for him, he will be able to rely on the “infallible” support of colleagues who are parliamentary assistants. What Noé Debré succeeds in doing is to present certain aspects of European political life in a light-hearted way, sometimes even ridiculing them. A life made all the more complex by the fact that politicians from no less than 27 different countries meet in Brussels (and even 28 at the time the series takes place, since the protagonist’s entourage includes an assistant to a pro-Brexit English MP). Bringing up the eccentric and unprecedented side of this situation, the series portrays an English MP who is proud to have given her country back its freedom … while realizing with regret that this Brexit situation means her dismissal.
As for Eamon, he finds himself lost between, on the one hand, Eurocrat parliamentarians, and on the other hand, parliamentarians who seem to find neither their place nor their function: zealous European civil servant, the only guardian of the institution and of these time-consuming regulations which govern every single procedure in the slightest detail. More than the European Parliament, it is above all the ambiguity of the European identity that is being mocked. Between national and individual interests, lobbyism and careerism, each character is a caricature of the institution and strives to demistify its subject.
There is something for everyone: neophytes will be able to catch a glimpse of the complexity of the European decision-making process; experts will perhaps look back with nostalgia on their first probably clumsy steps; and students of European affairs will realise – with relief, or even fear – what awaits them. But Parliament is not just a pleasant way of reviewing its acquis on the running of the European institutions: co-written with former European Parliament staff, the series manages to show a serious critical spirit. One can sometimes blame it for being too light in its criticism of technocracy.
Far from series such as House of Cards or White House (caracterised by their serious tone), Parliament immerses us in the exciting reality of parliamentary democracy in a refreshingly offbeat way. Perhaps the challenge of the series is to show us that, while imperfect and open to criticism, it is in this institution that our representatives are working to make new standards, not just on the hot topics of migration and security, but also on sharks.