May 20, 2009
The European Parliament seems to deny (or confirm?) one of the laws of physics. The more influential it becomes as part of the EU democratic process, the less meaningful it is to the man or woman-in-the-street (a down-to-earth version of ‘the European citizen’).
The latest Eurobarometer poll suggests that only 34% of the European electorate will vote in the upcoming elections, while the figure for Poland is 13%. More sobering still, only 10% of Europeans from other EU Member States living in Belgium have registered to vote. In Brussels, the heart of the European Union, the figure is 7%!
Various factors are at work. For a start, the image of the Parliament and its MEPs is coloured by public attitudes towards the political classes back home. This connection is in a way illogical because, in a number of the Member States, these MEPs are often the superannuated relics of earlier generations of national politicians or rejects of the contemporary scene. A French politician has described his European colleagues as “les anciennes gloires et glorioles de la vie politique française ou les bannis de la Cour élyséenne condamnés a l’exil bruxellois.” Even a prominent German MEP has said that national politicians “resolve their domestic disputes by sending people to the European Parliament who know nothing about Europe.” Member State politics…
Secondly, the way the electoral lists (which have been approved and published late in the process, viz. France May 11, Belgium May 15) have been drawn up is calculated to alienate the voter. People look for someone they can trust, they want to vote for a person rather than a party, whether it has been discredited or not. But what happens? The parties control these lists and tilt them to suit their prejudices, without showing any real differences in their respective policies. So, once again, Member State politics gets in the way.
At least, Belgian politicians pretend to be (reasonably) good Europeans, whereas members of the French Assemblée nationale go on record as saying things like: “On s’en fout du Parlement européen” and “Être élu européen, c’est une pantalonnade!” Out of concern for their political futures, a lot of British politicians tend to say similar things to their constituents, whether they believe them or not. And German politicians are just too polite to say it.
Ultimately, the whole process is boring. Maybe we should welcome the approach of the Hungarian IDE party which proposes sending sixty of its supporters, one after the other, on a one-month stint in Brussels, all expenses paid. Now that’s democracy! Or maybe we should go for the Italian approach, where the dominant party suggested nominating former actresses and TV personalities for the job.
In the final analysis most MEPs, despite their sex appeal (and generally there’s very little of that), aren’t thinking about Europe but about their own constituencies back home. Vive l’Europe!
Reactions of Brussels-based expatriates to the European Parliamentary elections are the subject of a forum featured on VRT TV online. Go to: deredactie.beAuthor : Richard Hill