What does the European Parliament DO anyway?

Sir Julian Priestley was the Secretary-General of the European Parliament for 10 years between 1997 and 2007. He’s always an informed, lucid and light-hearted commentator on its affairs. See his 2009 article on the many “presidents” of the EU. I’m currently reading his book on how Parliament has increased its powers over the years.

So I’m a little disappointed that I can’t find online an excellent little article of his published in the paper edition of eureporter dealing with the actions of Parliament since the 2009 elections. Given that I apparently can’t link directly, I provide a summary of things discussed:

  • The June 2009 elections having the weakest turnout yet, with gains for eurosceptic and extremist parties.
  • A working majority of the centrist parties being nonetheless able to pass legislation.
  • The appointments of the two cheerful non-entities, Herman Van Rompuy and Catherine Ashton, as President of the European Council and High Representative (EU foreign policy chief). This was partly done by the Socialists to avoid the possibility of “President Tony Blair”.
  • The Parliament’s gaining concessions on controlling the External Service’s activities and budget, notably by an implied threat to slow down the Service’s creation.
  • The initial rejection of the SWIFT agreement (on sharing transactions information with the U.S.A.) despite the high-profile lobbying of Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden showed Parliament working with public opinion and led, according to a Priestley, to a second more balanced agreement.
  • The Parliament being on the whole more “free trade” and “pro-business” because of the objective alliance of Christian Democrats (center-right, the biggest party), Liberals and Eurosceptics.
  • A relatively easy time passing new financial regulation in response to the economic crisis.
  • Equal co-decision between Parliament and Council being the rule after Lisbon, many potential battles and reforms await over the budget, structural funds and the previously untouchable Common Agricultural Policy.

This of course only scratches the surface of the Parliament’s activities and it is almost impossible to closely the more-or-less obscure dossiers of various MEPs and committees. Still, it gives one a decent bird’s eye view of some of the big issues Parliament has faced and will deal with in the near future.

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