Yesterday in Brussels, we had a debate between the three candidates for the post of President of the European parliament (for the second half of the current five-year term). The vote takes place next week. Bizarrely, the event was organised by European Voice, a parliamentary magazine — the parliament itself, home of European democracy, doesn’t actually bother to organise any such event.
The leading candidate, Martin Schulz, a German socialist, seems likely to win. He is backed by both the socialists and the EPP, under their “Buggins’ turn” system. The other two candidates are Diana Wallis MEP (Lib-Dem, Yorks) standing in her own name, not sponsored by her Party, and our own Nirj Deva MEP (SE). There was some discussion of the question of diversity. This was an opportunity for Diana Wallis to play the feminist card — and for Nirj to offer his ethnic credentials. Schulz has the disadvantage of being both white, and male.
Diana Wallis told us that many Brits were proud to be Europeans (I don’t seem to meet many of those), and that the election of a pro-European English woman would be a wonderful response by the parliament to Cameron’s veto. Schulz emphasised his passionate commitment to European integration, which he told us was the only solution to the political, social, economic and environmental problems of Europe in the 21st century.
I asked very politely whether he felt that his commitment to integration was shared by citizens of European countries. He gave a very clever political answer: “Well I understand that those who voted for you support your view of the EU, while those who voted for me agree with my view. I respect your voters, and you should respect mine”. The audience (and apart from the reserved MEP seats, the large room was packed with staffers and hangers-on) was overwhelmingly europhile, so his answer was well-received.
Yet it embodied the essence of the fallacy of democracy in the European parliament. “The people voted for us, so they agree with the parliamentary europhile consensus”. Not so, Martin. They largely vote for familiar national parties, yet the MEPs they get are, for the most part, passionate euro-luvvies, much more pro-European that most of their voters. I love to quote the example of the parliament vote on the European Constitution, back in 2005. The great majority of French and Dutch MEPs supported it, yet their compatriots rejected it in their national referenda.
The European parliament likes to claim that it embodies democracy “at the European level”. It does no such thing. It merely provides a pretence of democracy in an attempt to provide a spurious fig-leaf of democratic legitimacy.
In retrospect, I shouldn’t have been so measured in my question. I should have ranted.
“Don’t you know that a majority of Brits think the EU does more harm than good? That your own German voters are sick to death of bailing out Club Med? And that the Greeks are burning the EU flag on the streets of Athens? And you say the people want more integration?”.