Getting a fix on European elections
The other day I was having a conversation with colleagues, and one of them asked the following question: can you name one decision taken by the European Parliament over the past four years? Nobody – I have to admit, myself included – could give a specific answer. Generically I was able to say a few things to do with the confirmation of European Commissioners and the EU Budget, for example, but I could not be specific about any individual decision taken or the reasons for it. But right now there are faces beaming down at us from lamp posts all over Ireland, and their owners want us to elect them. But elect them to do what?
For most people, the European constitutional arrangements are way beyond comprehension. Nobody outside of the circle of those who have studied EU law will have a very specific idea of what laws are made in Brussels or Luxembourg or Strasbourg, or by whom, or in what way. And for that matter, the elected MEPs live a curiously anonymous life. Even when we know them (and that will typically be because they had a prominent role in national politics once), do we ever – and I mean, ever – hear about what they are doing on specific issues right now?
As for the elections, these are somewhat lifeless, because they don’t determine anything significant in any overall sense. There is no Europe-wide agenda that can be influenced this way, no chance to make an informed choice in order to give the European Parliament as a whole a particular political or ideological hue. It is like voting for a county councillor, only less interesting.
For all of its years of existence, the European Parliament has struggled to be something. First it was the Assembly, whose members were nominated and had very few powers. Then elections came in, and MEPs did acquire more functions, and indeed started to exercise them. But what was missing was any sense of significance or purpose that this communicated to the domestic populations of the member states. It is not a coincidence that participation in these elections across Europe is so low.
The real intention behind the concept of the European Parliament is to combat the democratic deficit in its institutional structures, and to allow directly elected parliamentarians to have a say in European affairs. In theory it was always a good idea. But actually, Europe doesn’t work that way: it is a coalition of states, not an aggregation of peoples. The latter may be our ambition, but it is very far from being realised. And so in some ways the Parliament doesn’t actually bring the EU nearer to the people, it just adds another layer and provides sceptical voters with an occasion to be suspicious about what the MEPs are up to; individually we tend to hear about them most when they have misbehaved in some way.
I should now emphasise that I am a committed European, and believe in the importance of the EU. But I am wholly sceptical about the value of the European Parliament. If as voters we want to have a say in what happens in Europe, the avenue for that is the election of our government which represents us there. Of course I shall vote in the election, but after that I do not anticipate hearing much about the Parliament or its MEPs until they climb back on to the lamp posts for the next time. And I wonder whether that serves much of a purpose.Explore posts in the same categories: politics comment below, or link to this permanent URL from your own site.