As I hurtled towards the big EU machine on the Eurostar from London St Pancras, I had initially intended this post-induction piece to be a light-hearted reflection on my first experiences in Brussels. The beer was good, the bureaucracy was bad – that sort of thing.
But in view of the seriousness of the inherently undemocratic structures which govern the EU – and, therefore, the UK – I think it important to focus on a few things about which even eurosceptics may not be fully aware.
First and foremost, the European Parliament is not able to initiate, block or repeal legislation. It may suggest amendments to legislation, but it has no authority to act like a true legislator and its suggested amendments may be ignored.
Laws are proposed by the EU Commission, comprising 28 unelected representatives, one from each member state – typically retired politicians or civil servants. The ultimate approval of legislation lies with the Council of the European Union – again, an unelected body of ministers whose voting rights are based on the size and population of the countries they represent.
The Council may block legislation but, since the requirement for unanimity to pass laws has been steadily replaced by qualified majority voting, even this chamber has great difficulty in acting as a check on the Commissioners. Given the power concentrated in the hands of the Commission, it may not surprise you to know that its building in Brussels is by far the largest – out of a series of very large buildings.
I used to regard the EU Parliament as merely a talking shop: potentially a voice box for dissenters but with their having no ability to perform any real function. In fact, it is not even a voice box. The Parliament is structured in various groupings and unless a given group can muster a large enough membership its members/leaders get very little airtime. It is not sufficient that the system is toothless; dissenting voices are, in effect, also muzzled.
So what does the Parliament and its members actually do? From what I could assess, as a new boy, close to nothing of substance. It does not even meet on a daily basis as you might expect of a national assembly. It only meets in what it calls “plenary sessions” for a few days a month, mostly in Strasbourg, not Brussels. These sessions create the trappings and appearance of a Parliament in action but the EU Parliament is functionless.
This does not stop the parliamentarians from being treated with the greatest of respect by the bureaucrats who support their non-function and provided with generous packages to enable them to “fully” discharge their non-existent duties: offices in their home countries, Brussels and Strasbourg (three offices, in case you lost count); staff in their home countries and Brussels, first-class travel to and from their home countries; a fleet of diplomatic cars to ferry them between the Parliament and the station/airport; and a special travel document which signifies the MEPs’ terrific importance.
It’s a gravy train so well drilled that any mediocre career politician fearful of getting a real job – and for the record I already have a job, having been in business most of my adult life – would fight tooth and nail to retain the EU Parliament.
With such largesse, it is not unknown for eurosceptic MEPs to go native. You can, however, rest assured that I shall be doing no such thing!
As you may have guessed this was not about myself, but was a very interesting piece written by Ben Habib, a new member of the EU parliament. He entitled his article “Joining a functionless Parliament” and some of his facts are quite revealing. No power or authority invested in the MEPs, full power with the unelected commissioners plus an absolute gravy train of expenses. Now there’s a surprise!