The European Parliament’s work: myths and realities

The EU institutions are intriguing: many EU citizens feel attracted by the EU institutions’ work and have a dream to get a job in them, some EU citizens when coming to Brussels visit the EU institutions and are astonished by their powerful role in the EU structure; there are also some EU citizens who remain ignorant of the role, powers and functions of the EU institutions.
But whatever the EU citizens think about the complicated role of the EU institutions, whatever the EU citizens do in their daily life – they need to be aware of the fact that the EU institutions due to their legislative function have an impact on every citizen’s life. That is the main reason why EU citizens need to understand how the EU institutions work and how the EU policymaking functions. This is necessary for many reasons: whatever the EU citizens’ position towards the EU institutions; the EU institutions will have an impact on their daily life. The reason for this is their legislative nature: the EU is responsible for the EU legislation that is implemented by its Member States. EU law has to be transferred into national legislation: each Member State has to ensure that legal acts adopted by the EU institutions reflect its national interests and are properly implemented. The impact of the implemented EU legislation affects not only the Member States but all the EU citizens. That is why the more the EU citizens understand how the European institutions actually work, the more they can be engaged in the EU’s decision-making architecture and the EU policymaking.
On the other hand, when the EU citizens remain ignorant of the European institutions’ work they remain outsiders to the EU’s policymaking and will miss its growing importance on their lives which in turn leads to missed opportunities for them. For that reason the EU citizens have to become closer to the EU institutions. And the first step to achieve this is a clear understanding of the EU institutions’ system, their work and their legislative character.
The European Parliament in this regard represents a particular interest for the EU citizens for several reasons: the European Parliament is the directly-elected institution which represents the EU’s 500 million citizens and defends the EU citizens’ interests in the EU decision-making process. It is also a body in which the EU citizens are not only represented but where their voice is heard. Through the European Citizens’ Initiative the citizens can ask for new EU legislation; with the European elections 2014 the EU citizens can be indirectly involved in the process of electing the President of the European Commission and of course with the EU elections 22-25 May 2014 the EU citizens can directly elect their representatives for the European Parliament. And that is an extremely important role for the EU citizens who become part of the EU policymaking and who through their vote can affect this process.
But even if the EU citizens are able to acknowledge the important role of the European Parliament, they can still believe in some recurring myths as to how this institution actually functions.
Let’s first start with the EU Parliament’s work and functions. The European Parliament’s work is very exciting in its priorities and at the same time the work of this body is very intense because the European Parliament is dealing with a big amount of questions covering different EU policies from agriculture to the foreign policy of the EU. But for outsiders it could seem that the European Parliament’s work is mainly bureaucratic and doesn’t actually affect the interests of the EU citizens. But in reality the work of the European Parliament reflects all challenges of the life of every normal European citizen. That is why the EU citizens shouldn’t underestimate the European Parliament’s functions in such fields as community legislation, budgetary powers and democratic processes in the EU and beyond. For example, in the field of the EU foreign policy the EU showed a constructive approach in mediation of the Ukrainian crisis during the Euromaidan times. Even afterwards when the crisis became deeper in Ukraine, MEP’s work in this dimension couldn’t be underestimated: the EU has learnt many lessons and will be more efficient in the future while reconsidering its strength and weaknesses.
The EU is facing a big economic crisis now and the work of the European Parliament is focused on growth-oriented policies and measures that can get the EU out of this crisis. During the last years the key concern of the European Parliament was to find a way to restore growth in the EU and fight against youth unemployment. To address these issues the EP undertook many measures and conducted several steps in order to approve the multiannual financial framework 2014-2020 while keeping the priorities of the economic recovery on the top position of its agenda. The fight against youth unemployment was and still is a top priority of the European Parliament’ work as well. The EP has provided several measures for the latter – for example Youth Guarantee – and has adopted two resolutions calling for further measures to encourage young people to move for jobs and trainings. The European Parliament’s work targets all layers of society from unemployed, young people to EU consumers and the EU’s workers. In order to illustrate it, just a list of few examples where the EP successfully tackles the problems of ordinary EU citizens debating and fighting their problems with appropriate measures and providing required legislation. For example, the EP had recently approved a deal on new EU tobacco rules requiring large pictorial health warnings. Taking into account consumer’s rights, the EP also made a decision on ending mobile phone roaming fees by 2016. As to worker’s rights, the EP passed a draft law on fully pension rights for the EU workers moving abroad. The EP shows that it cares about all the EU citizens and through its activities and its work makes it possible that all needs and priorities of all groups of society are addressed and satisfied and challenges are overcome.
The second myth that often leads to false assumptions by EU citizens surrounds the role of the parties in the European Parliament. Most of the EU citizens know that every five years EU citizens have the right to choose their representatives for the European Parliament by participating in the European elections. The population of every Member State has the right to elect a predetermined number of Members of the European Parliament during these elections. During the electoral campaign of the European elections national political parties compete in these elections.
But then, once the Members of the European Parliament are elected, the “chosen” MEPs become part of EU political groups. Many EU citizens are not aware of this principle and thus confound the work principle of national parties with that of the political groups of the European Parliament. The EU citizens should know that in the European Parliament there are seven political groups. The most important of these are the group of the European People’s Party, the group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats and the group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe.
The EU citizens have to know that most national parties are affiliated to these European political groups. This can be illustrated with the example of the Lithuanian Darbo party: this party is affiliated to the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE). It means that the Darbo party shares the same visions of liberalism, democracy and freedom in politics as ALDE. The representatives of this party, once they are elected to the EP, then share the vision of the ALDE group and start working not only on the basis of their national party interests but also on the basis of the common platform of ALDE. Put more simply: the EU citizens need to know that once the representatives of the national parties are elected to the European Parliament (and once their corresponding parties are affiliated to the EU political groups) they start working for the European cause. Parties that are rivals on a national level or that compete against each other during the EP campaign on the ground in the Member State don’t remain rival parties once they are in the European Parliament. On the contrary, they start working for the European Union, for the values and principles of the EU and – on a European level – for the citizens who elected them.
Everybody who is working in the European institutions knows that they work for the EU, for the best of the European Union and of their respective Member States. Representatives who work in the European Parliament share a responsibility with their electorate, they take care of their voters’ interests and they work for the European Union as a whole while of course not forgetting the interests of their Member States.
The European elections are in ten days, so the countdown is on. The EU citizens who will go to vote on 22-25 May 2014 have to be aware of the realities of the work of the European institutions; in particular of the crucial role the European Parliament plays in the life of all EU citizens. The EU citizens should understand that their future is in their own hands, they need to act accordingly in order that their representatives can make their future better for them and defend their interests. The 2014 elections should be important for all EU citizens as they need to show that they are united in spirit in these difficult times when the EU is threatened by growing EU skepticism and by the rise of anti-EU parties. That is why now it is crucial that the role the European Parliament is not underestimated with regard to its capacity to overcome these problems. On the contrary, it should be supported and strengthened as much as possible by the citizens’ vote. Every citizen’s vote will be counted, every citizen’s vote can make a difference in shaping the EU’s policies, and every vote can influence the political agenda of the European Parliament. This time more than ever before your, the citizen’s, active position will have a real impact on the future of all of us.

Justina Vitkauskaite Bernard, Member of the European Parliament (ALDE), Lithuanian Darbo Party, and Vira Ratsiborynska, political analyst and PhD candidate at IEP Strasbourg

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