When I was a teenager, I wanted to be an MEP. I had been an ardent eurosceptic until I went to Dachau, and then started to read about Adenauer and Monnet and something clicked with me. This European unity thing made sense. When I discovered the European Parliament, I was blown away at the idea of a parliament elected by millions of Europeans, all working together towards a common noble goal. It was absolutely breathtaking, and I desperately wanted to be part of it. At one stage, as a member of the European Youth Parliament, I got to speak in the chamber, and for years afterwards that moment stayed with me, with the thought: “I’ll be back!”
Then I got involved in politics, and the more times I went to Brussels or Strasbourg, the less enthused I got about it and the EU. A post I put up recently about a directly elected president for Europe raised an interesting debate, and many interesting contributions, about how to reform the European democratic disconnect. One factor which emerged, which caught my eye, was the attitude of pro-Europeans to the European Parliament. It caught my attention because it centred around the fact that burst my parliamentary bubble. You see, the EP does a good job as a legislature and a scrutiniser of the Commission. I don’t doubt that. But where my jaw drops is when I hear MEPs and supporters of the EP proclaim it to be, collectively, the voice of the people of Europe.
No it isn’t. Yes, it is directly elected (by a dwindling 43% of voters, a level that if occurred in a national election would become a major issue in most member states) but that does not give it a collective mandate. Show me the European citizens who say that the EP has the same legitimacy as their national parliaments. Show me the citizens who will nod sagely if the EP were to overrule their national parliament, and side with the EP. When one listens to Brussels insiders talk about the manouverings between the PES, EPP and ALDE it’s like listening to a furious row going on inside the world of late 19th century Hungarian basket collectors. It is so distant from even national politics, let alone the citizens, that its democratic legitimacy is nominal at best.
Put it another way: If it emerged that the European Parliament was about to wrest control of something that really matters to voters, like setting income tax, from the national parliaments, how would ordinary Europeans react?