Note – this is an article about “Parliament”, not “parliament”
Subsequent to the 2009 European Parliamentary elections, the political representation in Parliament is now as follows (or will be when Parliament reconvenes on 14th July 2009):
I spend most of my time pottering about looking at local politics, but I was moved to undertake further investigation of Europe by my recognition that I have only a vague grasp of how the European Union (EU) actually works. Fortunately no else seems to know either, so I’m in good company.
The European Parliament is the democratically elected (sort of) chamber of the bicameral legislature of the European Union; the other being the Consilium, or Council of Ministers. The Commission is the Executive branch of the EU, headed by a President (appointed by the Consilium, approved by Parliament). This is not the same office as the “President of the European Parliament“, which is analogous to the Speaker of the House of Commons.
The words “president” and “council” gets rather overloaded, so I won’t be discussing the European Council which is a Heads of State meeting, or the quasi-Judicial Council of Europe which is the convening body for the European Court of Human Rights. The Council of Europe also has a Parliamentary Assembly (PACE), drawn from elected representatives in member countries. Yes, PACE also has a President. Suffice to say all the mechanics of a “United States of Europe” are ready to operate as soon as anyone is minded to bring them into force. And many are so minded.
If you were wondering why epithets about Europe are sometimes phrased as “Brussels Bureaucrats” and sometimes as “Strasbourg Fat Casts”, the reason is that the Commission,the Consilium and the European Council meet in Brussels, but the Council of Europe, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the European Parliament meet in Strasbourg, although the latter also holds meetings in Brussels which involves the entire institution shuttling back and forth repeatedly, for reasons that are too ridiculous to merit further discussion (clue: it involves the French).
Unique Selling Points
So, back to the headline – Who’s Who in the European Parliament? Since it is a supra-national organisation, the elected representatives of political parties in each member state each usually opt to join groups in Parliament representing some sort of collectively “agréable” philosophy toward governance. Importantly, these groups in Parliament tend to be associated with EU-funded party political organisations at a European Level. I would imagine there is some sort of long-term ambition by some European politicians to start branding themselves in national markets using the supra-national group name. In the UK this would seem unlikely, but who knows?
So what are the Unique Selling Points (USPs) of each of the groups?
European People’s Party – European Democrats
Formerly the Christian Democrats, the EPP and its less europhile “European Democrat” sub-group are the centre-right party in Parliament, and the group where you might find “conservatives”. The trouble with that theory is that the left-right political spectrumdoesn’t really capture the wide disparities in what different countries regard as socialist/liberal or conservative, left or right.
For example, until recently the EPP contained both Britain’s Conservative Party, leader David Cameron and Greece’s New Democracy, leader Kostas Karamanlis. The former isrelaxed about gay marriage and has been known to partake of the occasional herbal cigarette; the latter is the Prime Minister of a country which recently locked up a group of Bristolian footballers for dressing as nuns, the specific charge being that they insulted the Catholic Church. Is it actually useful – let alone accurate – to describe both the parties which these gentlemen head as “conservative” or “right-wing”? And what does that leave as a basis for describing the EPP?
Looking at the EPP’s 2009 manifesto, their elevator pitch is:
A European Union which is strong for the sake of its people, based on shared values and led by the strongest political family—or a weak Union with an insecure future, applying yesterday’s solutions to today’s problems.
And their policies include:
- More money and powers for the European Police Office, Europol
- More money for border control agency (gendarmerie) FRONTEX, the European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders of the Member States of the European Union. (Interestingly, FRONTEX may havemore helicopters than the Royal Navy).
- A Blue Card system for registering migrants (i.e. a skilled worker points system/Green Card system)
- A “renewed agricultural policy” (does that mean cutting subsidies?)
- Subsidies for “green” technology, and a contention that EU should get 20% of its energy from renewable sources
- An emissions trading system for Carbon Dioxide.
- “Improving the viability of social security systems” which I presume means higher retirement ages.
- Regulatory intervention to create “family friendly” policies – i.e. obligations on employers to accept part-time working.
- Support for “Life-long learning” which is a phrase open to many interpretations.
- “Language courses, entrepreneurial incentive schemes, vocational training and enhanced job placements are needed to assist legal migrants in integrating into the labour market and society.”
- More powers for international organisations like the International Monetary Fund and the United Nations.
- “[A] common defence force with standardised conditions for intervention and rules of engagement for international missions”
- “The EU should differentiate its neighbourhood policy in order to suit the specificities of different countries, while at the same time laying down common standards on human rights and the rule of law in a Neighbourhood Charter.” [I have no idea what this means.]
In summary: “Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.”
Party of European Socialists
The Party of European Socialists – does exactly what it says on the tin. With a history leading back to the earliest days of the EU, when it was just the European Coal & Steel Community. PES continues to rely on the assumption that they will never run out of other people’s money.
We can build a fairer society by putting people first. Let’s take Europe in a new direction.
More than ever before, the European elections are about political choices. It is the choice between our vision of a progressive Europe, proactively fighting for a better future for our citizens: safeguarding employment and living standards against the recession, tackling climate change, promoting social justice, security and fairness in today’s globalised world. Or a conservative, regressive Europe in which the future of our countries and people is left in the hands of the market and of forces beyond democratic control
The manifesto is fifty pages long, so these are some of the representative items, as a stream of consciousness:
“Put an end to tax havens”, “Reform of global finance architecture”, Build high-speed rail lines, Broadband and Wind Farms for everyone, “Common European Asylum System“, Money for energy efficiency and green R&D, a “European Pact for the Future of Employment” – subsidised jobs in the green sector, more scholarships for ERASMUS students, “we want the EU to play an active role in resolving confl ict in the Middle East – with the aim of achieving a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine – not least by harnessing the efforts of the international community”, “simplify the legal framework for SMEs through a statute for European Private Companies”, “The European Central Bank must encourage growth and employment while maintaining price stability“, “a European Social Progress Pact”, “a European Charter for Internships”, “a social progress clause in every piece of European legislation“, “a European framework for public services”, “a European pact on wages, guaranteeing equal pay for equal work and setting out the need for decent minimum wages in all EU Member States”,”European Charter for the Integration of Migrants”, Special attention should be paid to integrating women, young people and the European Roma population, ”We will continue to build a strong transatlantic partnership with the new Democratic leadership of the United States of America.”
And so on. In summary, double human rights for everyone, with brass knobs on, no return and a pact in every pot.
The ALDE’s origin story requires the use of visual aids and some sort of four-dimensional space-time diagram; one could say that they are a centre-left group that are willing to permit free markets as long as they get a piece of the action.
We share the common values and promote an open-minded and forward-looking approach to European Union politics.
We stand for individual liberty, a free and dynamic business culture, economic and social solidarity, sustainability in taking actions, protection of the environment and respect and tolerance for cultural, religious and linguistic diversity.
“to further deepen, reinforce and enlarge the European Union”
- European integration
- A European Foreign Minister and a European Army
- More bureaucrats, less bureaucracy
- “A Europe of Security and Justice for all”
- Subsidies for Green technology
- A single European currency
- Less bureaucracy, more bureaucrats
- Reduce Carbon emission to Kyoto targets. More Kyoto.
- Planned Spontaneity. More Aid, lower trade tariffs on agriculture
- A bigger, better Common Agricultural Policy.
In summary: PES-lite
Continues tomorrow (possibly) with Part 2 about the Greens, the Nordic-Left, the UEN and Ind/Dem.
Click here for “Who’s Who in the European Parliament? (Part #2)”