EP & EU Budget – do the “people” have a say?

Posted by Horatiu Ferchiu on 15/02/13
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Earlier today I was reading a blog entry on the Economist Blogs by Charlemagne on the relationship between the EU budget approved by the Council and the European Parliament. And this paragraph caught my eye:

“The argument boils down to the question of where democratic legitimacy really lies. Little-known MEPs can scarcely claim to command greater popular allegiance than national political leaders, unloved as some may be. And the European Parliament is unlikely to make itself more appealing by overruling national treasuries and parliaments, let alone seeking to exact European taxes on top of already high national ones.”

Recently, in Romania, a debate has been initiated by CRPE (Romanian Center for European Policies) on the upcoming European Parliamentary elections of 2014.  They produced a very comprehensive report on the situation as it is at the moment and made several proposals to improving the electoral system in Romania.

That debate prompted me to express my views on the relationship between Romanian MEPs and the general public. Outside a few notable exceptions (both positive and negative) most people have no idea who the 33 Romanian MEPs are. Inherently, they have no idea about their activity, or what goes on in the European Parliament. I have attempted to corroborate this experience with experiences in other MS, and to some degree similarities occurred. Most differences however were in MS that allowed for more relaxed criteria, especially for non-politically affiliated candidates.

I have long held the opinion that the European Parliament, largely the most democratic European institution, is also the one that is most distanced from its people. Sure, you need popular vote to get in, but once there, a certain semi-transparent veil settles on the activity of the MEP. And this is something which I believe to be MEP generated actually. In Romania for example, as this is my most accessible example, except for the MEP’s that have took it upon themselves to actively get involved in local politics as well, the activity of the rest is absent. It’s absent from the public agenda, it’s absent from the press, it’s even absent online in some cases.

And I thought this was a condition limited to Romania, but Charlemagne’s comment on little-known MEPs convinced me that this is something that goes on all around. You have to wonder now if this whole European Parliament thing really works as well as it should.

And bring forth the dilemma:

- Most MEPs are elected as representative of certain parties across the EU, affiliated to Political Families within the EP or not.

- Some of the MEPs in Brussels represent parties which hold power in their MS, some are in the opposition on the home front.

-Some MEPs represent specific social-economic or localized group of individuals and others represent collectively the individuals who support a certain party

-Each MEP has one vote; some express that vote according to their conscience and expertise, their understanding of the subject and personal opinions, while at the same time keeping an open relationship with her/his voters; others express that vote according to party indications.

The list above can be taken even further to include lobbyists and even more in depth analysis of their actions.

The diversity that this implies is in theory a good thing – because it offers the basis for debate and negotiations, which in turn should amount to solutions that are acceptable by all. But when we talk about the budget, things can be rather different, and unfortunately not to our benefit.

Voting on a budget approved by the Council is primarily voting on the budget approved on by representatives of the power structure in the MS. So there is going to be a strong opinion from the adverse party in the EP. [I realize that this totally annihilates any matter of responsibility for the MS that sent those MEPs there, or its legitimate interests]. Then there is going to be opposition from independent  MEPs as Charlemagne points out, because money is power, and they want more of both. And then there is going to be opposition for a million reasons that particular MEPs find very important, and the Council does not. Quite a madhouse situation.

The one thing that would legitimate any action within the EP, that never gets brought up for real is the wishes, desires and aspirations of the people. I am curios whether any MEP has returned to her/his constituency to inform the people she/he theoretically represents on the budget, present option and seek through active involvement within the community / communities to understand the will of the people – they supposedly represent. True, this kind of thing can’t be done for all types of initiatives within the EP, but this is the 7 year budget , and it’s getting voted before the 2014 elections, which means that some/most/all of the current MEPs will not be there by the time this budget ceases to be of use in 2020. So the only valid opinion here would be that of the people.

Unless all MEPs knew that since they didn’t bother to inform the people in the years that have passed since their election, chances are they are not going to have a good rate of success this time around. Moreover, since information was not efficiently brought down to “street level”, most people don’t know or care about the budget, which means that explaining it efficiently, so as to observe an educated opinion on this particular budget and its temporal constraints, would be outright impossible.

So instead of going back to the people, it’s best just to ignore them. And move along, claiming representation, although most of those she/he represents don’t even know she/he exists. Most likely what the people know is that there is an MEP elected from their constituency, but they heard so little of her/him and her/his activity that it sounds fictional.

I want the 2014 EP elections to mean change – I would like to see MEPs elected to go in the European Parliament representing groups of people, communities . And to some extents, I would like the EP to take the people’s side when it comes to EU affairs. Question is then should access conditions to the EP be unified across the entire EU, granting same opportunity for election all across the MS’s? And taking it further down, shouldn’t MEPs and the EP be something different that MPs and National Parliaments? Because if we allow local battles to be taken to Brussels and be transformed in EU battles that only means that while we would have to compromise at home once to solve the problem, we would now have to compromise 27 (soon 28) times to get a decent majority in the EP.

 

 

3 Responses to EP & EU Budget – do the “people” have a say? »»

  1. Comment by Euronomist | 2013/02/17 at 13:06:10

    Well, to be honest I have seen this happening in countries where the number of MEPs is much less than 33. I occasionally ask myself how many MEPs we currently have and I cannot even remember half of them. Why? Well the issue might be because we see them less often, as they have less media attention than local politicians. The other problem is that we do not know what they do exactly as this is never brought to our attention. We are mostly watching organizations like the Eurogroup and the European Council (where no MEPs are participating) which we “believe” make the most important decisions on our future.

    The fault lies entirely to the MEPs as you have said. When has one actually addressed his/her fellow countrymen considering an issue? Never. We have the view (which is somewhat true) that they act as puppets of the state parties they are representing. And they do all in their power not to prove us wrong.

    Is it just a coincidence that the elections with the lowest voter participation rates are the ones where MEPs are elected?

  2. Comment by Horatiu Ferchiu | 2013/02/17 at 14:25:24

    no coincidence – more like a consequence. And since the EP is the only generally elected body in the EU, that says a lot. Hopefully things will change.

    In the meantime, I just hope that the MEPs will acknowledge this issue and start doing something about it!

  3. Comment by Euronomist | 2013/02/17 at 15:12:30

    Indeed its consequence… That makes two of us hoping!


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