Imagine there was an organisation which managed to operate outside of media scrutiny. Imagine it made people as powerful as European Commissioners nervous, and at times was able to make them do things. Imagine this secret organisation had over 6000 people working for it, and a budget of over €1.5 billion. You know of whom I’m talking about.
On paper, the European Parliament makes complete sense. It is elected in free elections, and the parliament is no longer the talking shop it was in the past. The fact that so many lobbyists from private business choose to lobby it goes to underline that it matters.
Yet, there’s the problem. It does matter, but should it? The media don’t pay any attention to it because its consensual method of operating means that there are rarely winning and losing sides as there are in other parliaments. The European public aren’t interested for pretty much the same reason, they are not electing direct rulers, and so their vote does not really change much save for an incremental shift in political groupings. The people whom the parliament represent just don’t give a toss, and should we spend €1.5 billion for that privlege?
And yet, that’s not my worry. No, the real concern is how the parliament sees itself, as the voice of the people. But does election turnout, currently a pathethic 42% (19% in Slovakia) allow the parliament to even claim that? A former minister once told me that the European Parliament is only wanted by people who are MEPs or who might like to be MEPs, and I suspect that is true.
The real fear is that the parliament becomes an end in itself, answerable to itself and concerned with its own place and powers, and that elections to it are mere cypher elections where most don’t even vote, yet with considerable power to direct the policies of the union. Is that what Europeans want?
So what to do? Abolish it? If it gets less than 40% at the next European elections, that has got to be on the cards. But it has to be said, we do need something to keep an eye on the commission, which it occasionally does. How about a European Senate instead, elected not as a parliament to pass laws, but with two senators from each member state whose job is to oversee and question the commission. It could be well resourced (Altough, with 54 members, far cheaper than 732 MEPs), and the directly elected senators would be well known as they would be elected nationally. But, you say, how could that effect turnout? Ah. One more thing: Any country with a turnout of less than 50% loses its senators for that term. If the people don’t want representation, then don’t force them to have it. Will it cause a huge row? Possibly, but then, isn’t that want we want?