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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The European Parliament - a failed experiment in pan-European democracy?

In a new report published this morning we assess the track record of the European parliament and conclude that it has failed as an institution on a number of fronts. Although many individual MEPs work hard and conscientiously for their constituents, the European Parliament as a whole has failed to gain popular democratic legitimacy. Still, given that the EP now has a lot of power to decide law that impacts on people's every day life - from working hours to browsing the web - there's a lot of reason to vote in the European elections.

Here are the key findings:
  • Turnout has fallen despite an increase in MEPs’ powers: While the use of ‘co-decision’, under which MEPs have equal status with national ministers in passing EU legislation, has more than doubled during the last two decades – from 27% to 62% – turnout in European elections has fallen from 57% to 43%. Yes, yes, correlation not causation (as the old twitter cliché goes) but point is: if the EP was effective in closing the democratic deficit, we would see exactly the opposite trend. 
  • There is no correlation between voter turnout and knowledge of the European Parliament or interest in EU affairs: A common explanation for low turnout in European elections is a lack of public knowledge of EU politics and the EU institutions yet this is not borne out by our research. For example, in Romania 81% and Slovakia 79% of people say they are aware of the European Parliament but only 28% and 20% turned out to vote in 2009.

Likewise, low turnout cannot be explained by a lack of interest - in the Netherlands, 61% say they were interested in European affairs – the highest in the EU – yet the turnout of voters at 36% is one of the lowest.

  • The main party groups in the European Parliament agree with each other three quarters of the time: It probably won't come as a surprise to anyone who watched any of the 'debates' between Martin Schulz and Jean-Claude Juncker that, despite representing national parties of different political traditions, the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) and centre-left Socialist and Democrat (S&D) party families voted the same way 74% of the time in the 2009-14 parliament. Meanwhile, the average majority in co-decision votes in the 2009-14 parliamentary term is over 75% – the highest it has ever been. In effect, this denies the voters the very same choice the EP is meant to boost. 
  • In 2012, the European Parliament spent €85 million on fostering a common European political identity through the party groups in the European Parliament and their affiliated pan-European parties and political foundations outside the parliament. This is only part of a budget that has been spiralling out of control - up from €1.4bn in 2008 to around €1.75bn in 2014.

So those are some of the key problems - what about the solutions? While there is no quick easy fix to what is a complex and multi-faceted problem, the single most effective remedy would be to return democratic accountability closer to voters by boosting the role of national parliaments in the EU decision making process and not repeating the mistake of giving more powers to the European Parliament.

This would involve national parliaments being able to group together to block proposed EU laws and amend or repeal existing rules (see here for more details on this). In parallel, the European Parliament should be stripped of its right to increase the EU budget as it is national parliaments that are responsible for raising the revenue. In addition, MEPs should not be able to veto EU trade agreements agreed by national parliaments.

Meanwhile, the €85 million spent on fostering a common European political identity through the party families in the parliament and their affiliated pan-European political parties and foundations should be cut. The 2009 reforms to MEPs’ allowances should be completed by requiring all allowances, such as the general expenditure allowance (worth €51,588 a year) which is vulnerable to misuse, to be conditional on the production of receipts.


Rik said...

Simply a failed experiment.
Missed the link with the European voter completely and hard to see that at this stage that could be restored even by competent people, not even to mention the bunch of uncharismatic clowns that have to do it now.

Totally useless for a democratic process as well. Via national parliaments nearly all would probably feel better represented that way than via EP.

From an practical as well as democratic pov: simply close the joint.
I donot see much in your proposal tbo. Except that it undoubtedly will be politically more easy to sell.
Thing is a complete failure better spend the money somewhere more useful. Buy a decent suit (as in non brown) for Schultz. An airplane for the Duchess of Ashton. Tanks for the Ukraine that can actually hit the gaspipelines. So many great things could be done with that money.

Rik said...

Bit strange that 'aware of EP' is so low in the UK.
The UK has probably the most recognisable MEP of the whole of Europe (also for others than Europeans btw). For a lot of say Americans Farage is simply the face of the EP (admittedly a more likable face than that of Schultz or a better washed one than that of VerHofstad (or however you write that)). These are the only 3 I could mention when asked.

Its probably most anti-EU member plus two totally unappealing guys. Says it all really.

Denis Cooper said...

In Christopher Howarth's article on conservativehome:


but not in this article nor in the report referenced, he writes:

"Over time the idea was that pan-European elections would suck authority away from national politicians and up to a higher EU level."

How does that square with what was said in the Wilson government's official pamphlet urging a "yes" vote in the 1975 referendum on whether we should stay in EEC?


That asked the question:


and gave various reassurances, when all the time the plan was to gradually drain power away from our Parliament and the other national parliaments.

What we have learned over the intervening years is that we should NEVER believe any reassurances given by ANY government about ANYTHING to do with the EU; we should not have believed Wilson in 1975, and we should not believe Cameron if/when he tries to pull the same stunt as Wilson, which he would do given half a chance.

Denis Cooper said...

Please could you (and Cameron and Hague) drop this daft and basically deceitful plan for a "red card"?

It would just be another system of transnational majority voting in parallel to the one in the EU Parliament, and as such it could not possibly remedy the fundamental defect of the EU Parliament, that there no pan-EU "demos".

As you say in your report:

"At root, the EP’s failure to connect with voters across Europe is a consequence of the lack of a
European ‘demos’."

In 1975 we were promised that our Parliament would always have its own veto over new EU laws - its own veto, not one which can only be exercised in combination with a sufficient number of other national parliaments - and nothing less than that will do.

Rollo said...

You clearly do not understand. The EU Parliament was never an experiment in democracy. Like the DUMA it was intended only to give a semblance of democracy, while rubber-stamping the diktats of the polititburo/commission.
It is based on the principle that the people are too stupid to have a say in governance, but that clever, well paid secure bureaucrats know best and will tell the plebs what to do.

Anonymous said...

Please think carefully before voting for a parliament so Orwellian that even its name is a lie (it is actually the EU parliament).

Please think carefully before voting for a parliament that has no real opposition.

Please think carefully before voting for a parliament whose members are not elected under normal democratic lines.

Please think carefully before voting for a parliament whose main object is to reduce the influence of national democracies.

Above all...be wary of voting for a "parliament" whose main powers were granted it by a treacherous Treaty (Lisbon) that most Europeans were DENIED a direct say on!

Average Englishman said...

The European Parliament is more a failed experiment in pan-European non democractic control by an unelected so called 'elite'.

As Denis Cooper has pointed out, the whole edifice was not founded upon populer European wide demand for a United States of Europe with a related Parliament and Executive but was put in place by a caucus of politicians who thought they knew what would be best for the plebs under their control (and of course themselves) but knew the people would not accept their plans if they were to put their views openly to democratic debate. They therefore put together the current EU institutions by a process of continuing deceit, whilst at all times denying their real intentions.

The entire edifice is built on foundations of sand and it is only a matter of time before it falls. I would rather the UK were not a part of it when that happens.

Denis Cooper said...

And, Anonymous, we should also think carefully before voting for an EU parliament some of whose leading members are now pretending that the elections this month are not just for the members of that body but also for the successor to Barroso as President of the EU Commission, and have launched themselves into an election campaign on that false basis, and even with a debate to be shown this evening at 8pm on the BBC Parliament Channel.

The euromaniac BBC itself seems to have reservations about this peculiar development hatched in the twisted minds of its fellow euromaniacs:


"What gives the whole campaign a touch of unreality is the fact that the actual choice to lead the Commission will be made by the heads of government - and they may choose the candidate of the strongest party, but they may not, and there may be months of arguing and horse-trading."

Anonymous said...


Typical Open Europe eurofascist dissembling: The EUSSR Parliament has failed, but let's keep it anyway.

Sometimes. all that's left to do is to stand back and laugh at you Eurofascists.

Anonymous said...

What a joke, LOL!

The easiest, best and only solution can't be implemented because it'd leave those involved jobless.

S let's have more meetings, analyses and committees and not rush with a decision....

A total farce.