Above: EU flags in front of the Berlaymont building, head office of the European Commission. Date:
26 October 2007. Original file (2,405 × 1,647 pixels, file size: 2.2 MB, MIME type: image/jpeg) reduced in size to 640 x 438 pixels. Source:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/10209472@N03/1854625464/ Author: Amio Cajander. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.
We’ve seen in the new recently, allegations of corruption at the highest levels of decision making in the European Union. Commentary has centred on the fact that in order to get rid of a couple of allegedly rotten apples, the only option for the European Parliament is to get rid of the whole Commission. Naturally this provokes a sense of injustice from other Commissioners, but the more serious wider issue, of the lack of power for the European Parliament, appears to have been ignored.
The European Parliament is much like the parliaments of the Middle Ages, a talking shop where those privileged enough to have seats can chat about the important issues of the day. It has advisory and supportive powers, but these are not really powers at all. Parliament needs to become more proactive and have the confidence to assert itself. If it does not, it will remain the Commission’s rubber stamping body and will never have the power to implement the sort of Europe demanded by the voters. The power of the European Parliament should be paramount; the unelected Commission simply has to go.
Successive national governments in countries across Europe have let the people down, they have failed to give Europe the democracy she deserves and dragged their feet on giving more power to the Parliament. This is not good enough, democratically elected national politicians should hang their heads in shame and ask themselves whether they are really democrats at all.
The European Parliament has a responsibility too. It should not just oppose the Commission when some corrupt Commissioner gets caught, it should refuse to endorse any future Commission and demand a Europe-wide referendum on whether the Commission should continue to exist. Such a vote for democracy would inevitably result in European power being vested where people want it, in a directly elected Parliament.
A powerful parliament would be able to increase interest in Europe and increase the appalling voter turnouts that currently characterise Euro-elections. People would no longer be afraid of the EU since decision-makers would be elected officials who could be voted out at the next election. If this doesn’t happen, Europe will never enter the popular consciousness.
By Chris Knowles
Originally published in the REaction! the political magazine of Wakefield District Young Labour, ISSN 1464-8105, Vol.2 no.1 April 1999.