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European Parliament: Hard To Read

  • May 28th, 2009
  • Posted by EUEditor

eu-parliament.jpgThe contest for the European Parliament elections next month is proving not only quiet but hard to read, with again barely half the electorate expected to turn out to vote.

POLLING SHOWS MIXED INTENTIONS

A consolidation of polls among the 492-million people of 27 European Union countries reveals that nearly 45% are intending to vote, similar to the last elections – but of those intending to vote fewer than half say they have already made their choice of candidates. (Polling by TNS, and by the Parliament on line).

The Parliament is divided into seven main alliances of groups and parties, cutting across national boundaries, and does not vote on rigid partisan lines like many national legislatures.

When the tendencies and ideologies are taken into account, the polls show that a modest left-of-centre weighting in the European Parliament might continue.

There are 785 members of the European Parliament (MEPs) to be elected for five year terms, with well over 2500 candidates standing this time.

The voting takes place on usual election days for the different countries, so it will start this Thursday 4.6.09 in the Netherlands and continue through to Sunday, when most countries will have their turn.

CAMPAIGNS OF MANY KINDS

The lead up these elections, as usual for this parliament, features campaigns by interest groups, e.g. by health care workers, as well as local and national issues.

Pan European issues are rare, except for the curious phenomenon of “anti-Europeans” beating the drum, getting elected in order to further their campaigns against having a European Union.

Delegates in that category include Euro-sceptic British Conservatives, and members of far-right nationalist parties.

This time those nationalist groups are hoping for a big boost from anxiety over the economic recession, and linked to that, anti-immigrant feeling; and they are campaigning strongly in newer member states in  Eastern Europe, like Bulgaria and Hungary.

BRITISH SIDE GAME – NEVER TRUST A POLITICIAN

A main side game is also the break-down of trust in political leaders generally in the United Kingdom, reflecting disgust at the revelation of opulent expenses rackets practiced across the main parties at Westminster.

According to surveys requested by the European Parliament, British voters are among the least likely to cast a ballot, by contrast with the Belgians, Maltese and Irish, who are the most keen.

There might be little wonder at that, in view of the odour surrounding British elected members, with opinion soundings this week, from the Plymouth University elections data centre, showing more than half of Britain’s 646 House of Commons members stand to lose their seats, directly because of the scandal.

Information published mostly by the Daily Telegraph newspaper, from leaks and Freedom of Information calls, has revealed MPs blowing very large sums in expenses money, on private mortgages, costly furnishings in second homes, and building reconstruction. One with perhaps a passion for lost causes ran up a large bill for media advice.

The Labour Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, admitted to putting some work his brother’s way, on the public account, and a Conservative Member was found to have used his expenses to build servants’ quarters at one of his houses.

While the fun has been generally within the rubbery bounds of some remarkably generous guidelines, but criminal charges are expected in some cases, e.g. mortgage payments claimed for a loan already paid off.

The Labour Party, already with only 17 MEPs, has ordered its European Parliament delegation to make public all their accounts; while voters, however, are believed to be eye-ing off minor parties, as a more respectable choice.

“GOOD THINGS” PUT ON SHOW

The European Parliament itself has been at work drumming up business; pointing out that this election is the world’s second-biggest democratic event – behind national elections of India.

While this is the seventh occasion since European Parliament elections started in 1979, it feels there is still a need for education about the often complicated, but increasingly close-to-home decisions that the MEPs get involved in.

The Parliament shares in the approval of Europe-wide laws with the executive Commission, at Brussels, and the Council made up of national Ministers from the member countries.

The ever-expanding EU has extensive powers already in many fields including financial regulation, transport and aviation , agriculture, trade, the environment and technology.

The latest declaration from the Parliament accordingly advertises a set of “five big things the European Parliament has done in the last five years.”

It says:

The laws the European Parliament passes make a real difference for Europeans, in their daily lives and in their work. Some are felt directly and immediately, some filter through the system via national laws; either way the Parliament makes a difference.

The list:

* “REACH” program: Parliament broke legislative deadlock on a fearsomely complex proposal from the European Commission to ensure the passage of new laws requiring the registration of tens of thousands of chemical substances, the removal from circulation of many hazardous and toxic substances and providing research money to find replacements of others. Public health and the environment were the big beneficiaries.”

* Passenger rights: Parliament passed into law new rules requiring transport operators to compensate passengers properly for delays and cancellations to which they fall victim.  It also ensured that advertised ticket pricing (for example on websites) must clearly show include all charges and taxes passengers must pay.

* Freedom to work across the EU: In one of the hottest political debates of the term – on the so-called “services directive” – members of the European Parliament thrashed out the conclusive deal which allowed Europe to set clear and fair rules allowing providers of services large and small from all EU countries to operate freely across the EU.

* Global warming: The European Parliament addressed what many believe is the big issue of our times passing a package of laws which aims to achieve  a 20% cut in greenhouse gas emissions, a 20% improvement in energy efficiency, and a 20% share for renewable energy in the EU energy mix by 2020.

* Cheaper phone calls: The European Parliament passed laws capping the amounts mobile phone companies can charge for calls made and received abroad, bringing an end to many disagreeable post-holiday surprises. Later, it turned its attention to text messages and data, introducing similar provisions.

Reference:

European Parliament, Brussels / Strasbourg; “Five big things the European Parliament did in the last 5 years”, 27.5.09, ref. 20090525STO56246. www.europarl.eu, (27.5.09).

DW Radio, Bonn; Elections: New poll gives hope for higher EU vote turnout, 27.5.09. www.dw-world.de, (27.5.09).

David Stringer, “British expenses scandal heads to EU parliament”, AP, London, 26.5.09.

Picture: The “hemisphere”, European Parliament chamber, Brussels.

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