Andreas Müllerleile / Apr 2014
Nigel Farage, the leader of UKIP. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Here is an argument you will not hear elsewhere: The European Parliament elections have little to do with the proposed EU referendum and the question whether the UK should or should not stay in the EU. Yes, the election result will have an impact on the Westminster bubble where an army of spin doctors will try and interpret it. But this is not what matters. What matters is simple. If you care about better EU policies you should care about the upcoming European Parliament elections.
The role of the European Parliament has changed fundamentally over the past decade. You simply cannot dismiss it as a useless talking shop anymore – and if some media outlet or campaigner tells you otherwise just ignore them. The European Parliament has become an equal player among the institutions in Brussels. It is a useful counterweight to the European Commission and co-legislates with the Member States. In fact, most EU policies can be radically changed by Parliamentarians – if they show some political will to do so. The European Parliament can also ask the European Commission to put forward a legislative proposal. However, one caveat applies: the European Parliament can only have this power if we – the citizens – elect MEPs that are willing and prepared to get engaged in the (admittedly boring) legislative process. Youtube videos, funny speeches in the plenary and appearances on Question Time just don’t deliver this kind of change.
There are numerous examples where the European Parliament had a huge impact on the final policy outcome. The CAP and fishery reforms would have looked very different without the EP. Or remember ACTA? It was the European Parliament that rejected the controversial agreement. A similar story can be told about the first SWIFT draft – rejected by the European Parliament. Only a few weeks ago the European Parliament changed a Commission proposal to safeguard net neutrality. Generally, the European Parliament works on many issues that directly affect British businesses. As with any parliament, you don’t have to agree with all the policies but the important point is that actually a lot can be changed from within the EU. The lesson for Britain is simple. Let’s focus on issues that are important for Britain instead of theorising about undefined notions of repatriation. The European Parliament can reject and change legislation – but only if there is constant public pressure and hard-working MEPs.
Changing the EU from within
There are 73 British MEPs who can change the EU from within – unfortunately, and thanks to UKIP – British MEPs have one of the worst attendance rates in the European Parliament. If you don’t agree with what the EU does, wouldn’t it make more sense to elect MEPs that are ready to challenge and change Commission proposals instead of doing nothing? So what can be done? Well, take the European Parliament elections seriously, do vote for an MEP or a party that is prepared to get involved in the legislative process.
Second, let’s talk about real policy issues – on a daily basis. Do you care about digital rights or climate change? Do you think something in the Single Market should be changed? Should the European Parliament reject TTIP? If you care about any of those issues, it is time to follow the work of the European Parliament. And by the way, it is not that difficult to find out what is really happening in Brussels. Just ask you MEP or – if your MEP is not interested in ‘your’ cause, get in touch with someone that sits on the relevant committee.
What does UKIP want to achieve in the European Parliament?
Even if we agree with UKIP’s policy goals (basically Brexit and immigration controls) there is one thing we should remember. UKIP can’t achieve any of it by sitting in the European Parliament. So what does UKIP really want and why does it matter? UKIP has been using its presence in the European Parliament to change the discourse about “Europe” in the UK. One could argue that they have already achieved this aim; they got the in/out referendum they have been banging on about and all major parties started talking about immigration. But UKIP have no interest in doing any of the legislative work in the European Parliament. But is this also in the interest of British citizens? Do we really need 10-15 UKIP MEPs in the European Parliament who are more interested in Youtube hits than changing EU policy?
Times are changing, EP elections have become too important to opt for a protest vote because you don’t like your government at home. If you care about how to change the EU – at least vote for someone that wants to achieve something in the European Parliament. And if we want to change the EU we need British MEPs in EP committees working on policies that help citizens and businesses. The truth is that a vote for UKIP is a wasted vote.