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Schadenfreude – EU democracy: is there such a thing?

What would make the European Parliament more relevant? Only the European citizen having a better understanding of how the EU works – writes our secret columnist in Brussels Schadenfreude

The European Parliament is the clearest democratic component of the structures of the European Union. Parliamentarians are elected by the vote at the polls of the member states. The voting system used in each state is democratically selected. There are in all 766 members.

Under the European Union treaties, the EP meets in Brussels but for one week in each sitting month in Strasbourg. The trek to Strasbourg is high cost but recognises the role of France in the history of EU. There is continuing pressure for the exodus to be abandoned, although France clings to it.

The European Parliament is the union’s co-legislator, jointly with the Council of Ministers. The European Commission, appointed by the governments of the member states, proposes legislation but does not enact it. European legislation is typically the outcome of negotiation between the EP, led by its majority, and the Council of Ministers.

There are 766 MEPs. From their different party loyalties they form groups with a common political persuasion. Group members normally vote collectively. There is a rich collection of juicy stories of disagreement within groups – of withdrawals, expulsions and dubious personal behaviours. It is highly unlikely that readers of this column have any idea of who their MEP is and what he or she has been doing in the present term.

One of the groups brings together representatives of national anti-EU parties. In the present EP, there are 35 members of this group – at the last count. Most of them are singletons but UKIP has 10 seats and two Italian parties have nine between them. Anti-EU parties have been gaining ground throughout the union. The EU is characterised as usurping national parliaments and in the bail-out countries as the dictator of austerity policies. The responsibility for austerity is not, of course, the union’s. It is down to the governments, which managed or mismanaged the national economy.

What would make the European Parliament more relevant? Only the European citizen having a better understanding of how the EU works. But contrariwise a clearer understanding of the functions of the EP – and other bodies – is likely to reinforce the contention that national democratic systems are being bypassed. A way has to be found of involving them, at the side cost of additional complexity.

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