In the European parliament, we have an institution called the “Written Declaration”. This is a bit like the Early Day Motion in Westminster — a chance for individual MEPs to make a point — and frequently little more than a hook on which to hang a press release.
(I occasionally get requests from constituents to sign EDMs, by the way, and I have to explain that EDMs are in Westminster, for Westminster MPs, and that MEPs cannot sign them).
Generally, I try to avoid signing WDs. Many are preposterous. Others are full of goodwill and apple pie — for example, calling for more to be done on various diseases, like rheumatism or diabetes or cancer. These are worthwhile causes, but they end up calling for more action at the EU level. I’m in favour of helping people with diseases, and I’m in favour of international cooperation on major health issues and research, but I’m not about to call for the European Commission to have more competence than it enjoys already on health issues — or on any other issues, come to that.
The objective with a WD is to get an absolute majority — currently 369 — of MEPs to sign. At this point, the WD becomes a resolution of the parliament, and is passed to the Commission and the Council. After that, it gets filed and collects dust. It has about as much force as the new million-signature Citizens’ Initiative, or as the “Red Card” which national governments can show to the Commission. All these measures are there to give a spurious air of legitimacy and accountability to essentially unaccountable institutions.
Yesterday, three new WDs hit my desk at the same time.
The first, #0027/2011 calls for the EU to recognise “the Palestinian State”. Many of us would support a negotiated two-state solution to the Israel/Palestine problem, but this WD with its call for recognition, and its failure to make any reference to terrorism, peace or security, or the right of Israel to exist, appears to be a thinly disguised partisan gesture of support for the Palestinians at the expense of the Israelis.
The second, #0032/2011, calls for a moratorium on shale gas exploration. Shale gas is the world’s new energy lifeline. For those who care about carbon dioxide emissions, gas is much “cleaner” than coal. Shale gas is plentiful. It offers a new era for fossil fuels. Far from peaking any time soon, shale gas and oil could last a couple of centuries.
Of course as with any new technology there are risks, with suggestions that shale gas extraction could lead to earth tremors or to contamination of aquifers. But risks are there to be analysed and managed. All technologies have risks. Hundreds of thousands have died in coal mines, and in hydro accidents. The oil industry had the Exxon Valdez and BP’s massive Macondo Field leak in the Gulf of Mexico. Nuclear has had Chernobyl and Fukushima. There are health problems associated with wind farms. But if we want to turn the lights on, we have to generate energy.
So we need to be circumspect with shale gas exploration, but we can’t turn our backs on it. The greens hate coal and oil. Germany is closing down nuclear. Renewables can’t fill the gap. If we go on like this, we’ll have to ask the last person to leave to turn out the light.
And the third WD is the best of all: 0031/2011 calls on the Council and Member States to establish a common EU Army by 2050. Words fail me.
And before you ask — No, I shall not be signing any of these WDs!