Via Nosemonkey’s blog I came across this column in The Observer by Tim Adams from just over a week ago about the European Parliament. What a load of drivel. I’ll quote one paragraph:

One of the problems with the European parliament is that it is not quite a parliament at all. Its members have no powers to introduce legislation; that is the function of the European Commission – the executive of 27 unelected grandees, one nominated by each European government (ours, a nice parting gift from Blair to Brown, is Peter Mandelson). MEPs only have limited powers to amend or block legislation in consultation with the Council of Ministers, drawn from the national governments of each member state. Beyond controlling budgets the the parliament – the only directly elected European body – concerns itself largely with talking and hoping that the commissioners, and their 16,000 civil servants, are listening.

[Update 4.12.07]
I’m glad to see that plenty of comrades to the pro-EP cause – Corbett and Priestley -  state the same view in the letters page of The Observer.Sorry, but has Mr Adams not taken a look at how Westminster functions recently? Yes, in theory MPs have the power to introduce a Private Member’s Bill, but in practice these almost never become laws because they are timed out. 3 were adopted in the 2005-06 parliamentary session, and all of them were proposed by Labour backbenchers (PDF from the Parliament website). So much for the active parliamentarian getting his or her legislation through.

Now it might be a little bit more complex for a British journalist to comprehend, but contrast that Westminster experience with the degree to which the Services Directive was amended by the European Parliament, led by its rapporteur Evelyn Gebhardt was able to amend the legislation to such a degree that the main component of the original draft – the Country of Origin principle – was removed. Gebhardt was also not from the main political group in the European Parliament. That doesn’t strike me as a ‘limited power to amend or block legislation’.

Plus the style of the EP’s way of working in Strasbourg is criticised, and the building is described as bewildering. Sorry, but the Houses of Parliament in Westminster are just as confusing and very much more intimidating! Plus with 1 million signatures for the petititon and the British government still complicit in the scandal to keep the EP in Strasbourg (only the Member States can vote to change the seat) it’s not the EP itself that can be blamed for Strasbourg.

Then on to the Commission… I suppose it has also escaped Tim Adams’s attention that the composition of the current Commission was changed as a result of the work of the European Parliament who rejected Rocco Buttiglione’s nomination? Plus the solution to improve matters further would be to link EP elections and how the Commission President is selected. Maybe some solutions as to how to make matters better would be welcome too, rather than a rather long rant on the pages of a newspaper.


  1. Agreed. What a ragbag of curiosites strung togather the feature is. Who for example deemed how one qualifies to be “eminent person”. Coldcut haven’t had a hit forever. In sum this is not that far away from the “Up Your Delors” style tabloid treatment of yesteryear.

  2. Central Scrutiniser

    It is truly impressive to see a whole Parliament being put into lorries and driven away somewhere else for a week. But why do they do that if they want people to take them seriously? The European Parliament contains no government – if it did you probably couldn’t move it all in a weekend. But then it would probably decide not to bother.

  3. rose22

    I linked to this article on Facebook too – got annoyed that EP is being judged on observation of a debate on an issue on which it has no power rather than on first pillar issues where (say it clearly in case people haven’t got it yet) the EP has real decision-making powers on legislation.
    NB as you know Regulations go directly into national law and Directives need to be implemented via national governments making laws. The Rapporteur and the lead Committee have huge powers to control the shape of the legislation in either form.
    Partly I think this lack of understanding of what the EP can actually do is the fault of MEPs themselves – they’d rather talk about their role as Human Rights spokesperson or their debate on Iraq (areas in which they can talk lots but do little) than their roles as first pillar rapporteurs in committees on technical subjects which nevertheless can really affect peoples lives.
    I just despair at the poverty of knowledge on the EU in general in the UK and this is symptomatic of the attitude – why should journalism involve investigation anymore when its easier to pander to anti-EU prejudice and just not bother? Check out the Economist article from a few weeks back that warns of the dangers of anti-EU complacency, and then see the news today that our PM may not go to Lisbon to sign the latest Treaty… .
    TimAdams is right on the Strasbourg farce though…

  4. Robert

    Anne: I’m assuming your talk of the EP being ‘dull’ and ‘not cutting the mustard’ means it’s not as ‘entertaining’ as the UK Parliament. However, that entertainment involves MPs yelling at each other and scoring political points – rather than debating rationally the issues of the day and making a detailed analysis of proposed legislation – which is exactly what the EP does.

    In other words, the EP does precisely what people would expect of a Parliament – which is certainly not what I’m seeing with the UK Parliament. Prime Minister’s questions may make good TV but achieves practically nothing in the long run. You could see the result of that in the amount of authoritarian legislation that has got through which has significantly damaged our civil liberties with little or no opposition (e.g. civil contingencies act, legislative and regulatory reform act, anti-terrorism act, etc.)

    Give me seemingly ‘dull’ representitives that properly scrutinise legislation than ‘showy’ ones who are just there to do the bidding of their party apparaticks.

    As for the Commission, it *is* appointed but has to be confirmed by the EP. If they so no, it doesn’t happen.

    If you consider commissioners to be equivalent to Government ministers in the UK, the latter are simply appointed *without* any confirmation by Parliament – the best you can hope for is them being voted out by their own constituents four years later. A long time to wait…

  5. I disagree with you here. Though I see what you are saying about the services directive, I think that the Observer article did get at the truth of the EP, namely it is very dull and it just doesn’t cut the mustard compared to national parliaments. It is true that the EP is much more exciting when someone like Sarkozy from a MS comes to address it. The Commission is unelected despite the EP’s veto of Buttiglione.

    I thought that this was a fair article, unlike many in the British Press and it did underline the difficulty of understanding how the hell the EU works.

    And, in fairness, it was also quite funny.

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