Back-slapping at the European Parliament – but also concerns
Members of the European Parliament engaged in some mutual back-slapping at their final session this week before an election next month.
“Nowadays very few decisions are taken in the European Union without the express consent and participation of the European Parliament,” said the parliament’s president, Hans-Gert Poettering.
“Increasingly, the European Parliament has become the fulcrum of political compromise at European level,” he said, reeling off a long list of laws passed in the assembly’s five-year term.
Graham Watson, leader of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats in the chamber, hailed Poettering’s work: ”Today, I think that I can speak for many when I say that you have earned our respect and affection.”
They are fine-sounding words – but few of the 375 million people who are eligible to vote in the June 4-7 election to a new parliament are likely to have heard them. And few are likely to care.
Opinion polls suggest the turnout will be low, with only about one in three respondents planning to vote. They also suggest European citizens know little about what the parliament does, even though it is responsible for passing pan-European laws that can have a direct impact on their lives.
This apathy could open the way for non-mainstream parties.
One of these is the Libertas party, a pan-European group which opposes the Lisbon treaty intended to reform the EU’s institutions to make decision-making easier and give the EU more clout on the world stage.
Another is the UK Independence Party which wants to pull Britain out of the EU. Its leader, Nigel Farage, sounded a dissonant note on Wednesday when he accused it of being undemocratic in a speech from the floor of the assembly in the French city of Strasbourg.
He said the parliament had “bulldozed” aside the wishes of Dutch and French voters who rejected the EU’s draft constitution in 2005 and the desires of Irish voters who said ‘no’ last year to the Lisbon reform treaty that is meant to replace it.
“This parliament has wilfully carried on ignoring the wishes of the people. You just don’t get it do you? ‘No’ means ‘no’,” Farage told the assembly.
The parliament appears to have a long way to go to convince voters it is relevant to their daily lives.
Little wonder, then, that Poettering urged members of the assembly to go out and explain to voters why the parliament is significant.
“The next five years will see hugely important decisions face this Parliament. If you care what decisions it takes, and you care who is taking them, then make your voice heard,” Poettering said in a recent message to voters.
Judging by the opinion polls, the members of parliament will have a hard time winning voters over. And they have barely a month to do so.