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Posts tagged with: European Parliament

Security theatre at the European Parliament: letting the terrorists win

This afternoon I tried to go into the European Parliament. The EU institution that is supposed to represent people like me – citizens of the European Union.

I am not a lobbyist or a journalist or an employee of another EU institution. So I could not get in.

I approached the rue Wiertz entrance to the Altiero Spinelli Building and was stopped by the security guards outside. You cannot enter, they told me, because you do not have a pass. I know, I said, I just need to go to the accreditation desk to call the MEP’s office I am visiting (I was to meet the assistant of a French MEP). You cannot even go to the desk they said*. How do I reach them, I asked? With a shrug the security guard pointed to the phone in my hand.

So what is the justification for this, keeping people outside on the street, I asked the guard. The yellow security alert he told me. So the terrorists have won, I responded, and he started to get edgy. “C’est pour votre securité” he told me.

How is this for an impression then? Here I am, as a citizen of the European Union, and the security of the European Parliament is keeping me out on the street.

jonworth_2015-May-29While I was digging around in my phone to find the number of the office I needed to reach, and a dozen or so other people were also milling around in the street, a large car pulled up and parked opposite the EP entrance – as pictured.

The reaction of the security guard?

To tell me off for taking a photo.

Tell me seriously – what is the greater danger? Me there outside the EP being barred for getting just into the building to call an office, or a car that could be full of explosive pulling up outside the building, and parking under the bridge connecting the two halves of the building.

I of course pointed out this absurdity to the security, and the response was “Vous voulez entrez dans le Parlement, monsieur?”

This is not about security. This is about giving an impression of power. It is theatre. The rules are both absurd and do not actually improve security. They do not make the EP look important; they make it look foolish and closed.

By this point the person I was due to meet had come down to fetch me, so as a final step before being accompanied inside I asked the security personnel for their names. I managed to note the name of one of them without him realising and I have reported his rude behaviour towards me, but the other guard hid her EP badge from view when I asked her for her name.

Welcome to the European Parliament. House of the people, where the terrorists seem to have won.

(my tweets from outside the EP earlier are here, here, here, here, here and here).

* – this morning I had a meeting at the Berlaymont, the most important building of the Commission that also houses all the Commissioners. There I explained to the security who I was meeting, they looked into my bag, and I was allowed to proceed to the desk. Why, if the Commission can do it, is the EP incapable of doing so?

So Martin Schulz, are you, or are you not, a federalist?

Martin Schulz, President of the European Parliament and wannabe Commission President, was on BBC World’s Hard Talk yesterday (4th December 2013), and used the following words:

You used the term that I am a European federalist. I have never in my life used it that I am a European federalist.

Here’s the video of it, timed to start at the right moment:

Here is Martin Schulz being interviewed on The Daily Politics of the BBC, on 14th September 2012, and he uses the following words:

The Members of the European Parliament are, with a broad majority, European federalists, like myself.

He also goes on to say that he would go further than José Manuel Barroso did – Barroso had called for a ‘federation of nation states’.

Embedding the BBC video doesn’t work, so click the screenshot and you will be taken to the video on the BBC’s site:
Screen Shot 2013-12-05 at 20.54.36

So then Martin, which one is it? Are you a federalist or not?

(Note: this case was pointed out to me in this tweet by Paolo Vacca – he deserves all the credit for the story!)

“You are the enemy” – how one line explains the European Parliament’s approach to communications

act-react-impactWhen I worked for National School of Government I used to accompany groups of UK civil servants on study trips to Brussels. The aim was that these visits would give the civil servants a first taste of the EU environment. On one visit to the European Parliament an old friend of mine who at the time worked as an assistant to a Green MEP came to address the group.

“You’re the enemy!” he said as his opening line.

You could hear the polite, grey suited civil servants shuffle uncomfortably. How could civil servants – even UK civil servants! – be an enemy?

The issue that my friend was getting to the bottom of in his confrontational way was what forces the European Parliament to work in a unified way as an institution. By enemy he meant that the British civil servants would be sitting in the Council in Brussels, and – when it came to legislation – the Council was the enemy.

I think this ‘we are the European Parliament, listen to us, respect us!’ sort of line still pervades how the European Parliament communicates, and comes from the history of the parliament that had to fight to be heard in the 1970s and 1980s, and has since then battled against low levels of trust, understanding and turnout. In other words the European Parliament feels it has to communicate as an institution. In contrast the Houses of Parliament in the UK or the Bundestag in Germany have, as parliaments, have nothing to prove, and hence their communication is more matter of fact, this is what we do. They are not setting out to convince people, to try to continually justify their existence.

The European Parliament needs to let go a bit, to relax, and to give its individual MEPs the tools and training they need to better communicate. That’s surely a better approach than trying to convince everyone of the parliament’s importance as a body.

Louis Michel: a MEP cannot blame their assistants on amendments

Screen Shot 2013-11-21 at 14.08.41When changes to EU law are going to have an impact on business, businesses lobby. That is normal. That business tries to use financial clout to increase its influence in Brussels is also normal; that’s why we need things like the transparency register and websites like LobbyPlag to see who is lobbying whom. Now you might argue that businesses have too much influence, or can buy influence, but I am not going to try to answer that accusation in this blog post. That the European Parliament is the most lobbied of the EU institutions is also normal – it is the most open institution.

However rather than looking at what lobbyists do, I was today struck by the despicable behaviour of one particular MEP – the Belgian former Commissioner Louis Michel (Mouvement Réformateur, ALDE Group) – and how he reacted when being asked questions about how lobbyists had influenced him.

As reported by De Morgen (original in Dutch here), and based on this investigation by LobbyPlag, a site that compares lobbyists’ amendments to those submitted by MEPs, Michel submitted the second highest number of amendments to the Data Protection Regulation that were aiming to make the legislation less tough on privacy, 158 in total. Now this may be justifiable – if Michel wants to be seen to be pro-business then he can stand up and say so.

But no, Michel instead said “This is the work of an overzealous employee. I never had contact with a lobbyist.” (“Dit is het werk van een overijverige werknemer. Ik had nooit contact met een lobbyist.”), going on to say that he had been in Mali.

Sorry Louis, but this is unacceptable, however you look at it.

MEPs are responsible for the amendments they submit. The question then is if Michel trusted his member of staff to make political judgments on amendments or not. If he did, and the staff member made an incorrect call, that is a matter for Michel to deal with within his office, and to discipline the staff member – in private – accordingly. In public it is Michel that is the MEP, and the buck stops with him, so he cannot wash his hands of the matter. Conversely if Michel did not trust the employee to make such calls, then he was personally deficient for not having checked the amendments that were submitted.

To put it other words, Michel is either behaving inappropriately, or incompetently, or both.

We elect MEPs, not assistants, and this legislation is going to have a major impact on every EU citizen doing anything online. When MEPs of mainstream, notionally responsible, parties behave like this, is it in any way surprising that trust in our political institutions is declining?

Association Européene des Jeunes Entrepreneurs – a fake entrepreneur association bashing one seat for the EP?

An association for European Young Entrepreneurs. Sounds like a fine idea, right? Well, not if you mean the Association Européene des Jeunes Entrepreneurs – AEJE (website here). The sole purpose of this organisation seems to be simply to attack all efforts to achieve a single seat for the European Parliament, and to defend Strasbourg. Why that’s important for entrepreneurship I have no idea whatsoever.

At the time of writing there are three news stories in the Association’s carousel of news stories on their website. These are the three stories:

Screen Shot 2013-11-18 at 18.40.28 Screen Shot 2013-11-18 at 18.40.35 Screen Shot 2013-11-18 at 18.40.22

The last of these three is the missive that just arrived in my Inbox, as they somehow have my e-mail address. You can read the whole story of why rapporteurs Fox and Häfner are lying here in English, here in French, and here in German.

Sorry AEJE, either do your job and promote young entrepreneurs, or change your name into the Campaign to Protect Strasbourg. Because at least when it comes to your opponents – SingleSeat – no-one can possibly doubt their intentions.

(note: title of the post amended. It wasn’t clear initially!)

Vacuum cleaners in the EU: when technocratic decisions overshadow politics

Screen Shot 2013-11-15 at 14.25.53I saw this tweet earlier today from UKIP MEP Derek Clark, complaining that now the “EU is coming for our vacuum cleaners”. His tweet links to this story from the Nottingham Post.

So then, with “is this UKIP bullshit” warning system activated in my mind, I set out to find what is going on, and indeed the EU is indeed sorting out vacuum cleaners. But here, just like anything else when it comes to EU law, the picture is a lot more complicated that one UKIP MEP sounding off. Or, if you Google a bit deeper, Tory MEP Giles Chichester rambling on about the same thing a few months ago in The Telegraph as well.

First it is worth setting one thing clear: there is a mass of EU law that impacts vacuum cleaners already. Things like WEEE and how you recycle it, what plastics are safe to put in the casing, what information has to be displayed on the box, and what your rights are if it proves to be defective. So this is not the EU suddenly regulating vacuum cleaners – there has been EU law on this for ages.

Then to the matter in hand, and the topic of the recent Nottingham Post piece that Clark cites. The maximum motor wattage of vacuum cleaners will be set at 1,600W from September 2014, and will then fall further to 900W in 2017, and that will indeed happen.

This triggers two further questions: is this right? And was the decision taken correctly?

The main piece of legislation in this area is Directive 2009/125/EC of 21 October 2009 establishing a framework for the setting of ecodesign requirements for energy-related products (PDF here). This legislation was decided using the ordinary legislative procedure, meaning the European Parliament had equal legal powers with the Council to decide it. The timing of this is a little odd though – the legislation was finalise just after the 2009 European Parliament elections, meaning the main work was prior to the elections in the last parliamentary term. Clark has been a MEP since 2004 though, so he would have been privy to these discussions, and had a vote on the legislation.

This legislation then gives the Commission the power to apply the ecodesign principles to all kinds of good – a list of these is here. It covers things such as Complex Set-Top Boxes, Industrial fans and Water pumps. And vacuum cleaners. The legislation for vacuum cleaners is Commission Regulation (EU) No 666/2013 of 8 July 2013 implementing Directive 2009/125/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council with regard to ecodesign requirements for vacuum cleaners.

The important thing to note here is that this legislation just about vacuum cleaners is not subject to the ordinary legislative procedure. It is the Commission acting alone. However a glance at Article 15 of 2009/125/EC shows how the Parliament granted the Commission powers to take forward the implementation of the principles. Now you might argue that the powers granted to the Commission were too wide, and that the European Parliament should also be involved in setting the maximum power of a vacuum cleaner, but a decision was taken – legitimately in 2009 – to not do that.

Further, the way the Commission takes this decision looks technocratic, but it is an intensely political thing in the end, because it has implications for consumer rights and consumer behaviour, and for energy policies and energy efficiency. In Europe should we all use cheap, poorly designed vacuum cleaners that nevertheless have 2200W motors that use a lot of energy? And in the end generate more electricity? Or, through EU law, should the companies that make such products be forced to innovate and make products with better design but that use less energy? Dyson’s DC50 already has a motor rated at just 700W (thanks Ken Page on Twitter for the tip), and James Dyson is even quoted at the very bottom of the Telegraph’s piece saying “Bigger motors don’t equal better performance. In fact they symbolise outmoded ineffective design”.

Now who might know more about the functioning of a vacuum cleaner – James Dyson or Giles Chichester or Derek Clark? I’ll leave you to decide that. But on this, just like so many EU scare stories in the UK press, the issue is a lot more complicated than meets the eye. For what it’s worth, I am very happy the Commission is doing this – energy efficiency is good, it needs law to make it happen, so initiatives like this are excellent.

No secret ballot in the European Parliament on the EU budget vote!

So it looks like the European Council has agreed a real-terms cut in the EU budget for the 2014-2020 period. This has, understandably, been labelled unacceptable by the 4 largest groups in the European Parliament. Yet, fearing coercion from Member States, EP President Martin Schulz and leader of the EPP Group Joseph Daul plan to hold a secret ballot for the European Parliament’s vote on the budget.

This is really no good – the European Parliament, the chamber of the people, should have the very best standards of openness and transparency. If MEPs are to be pressured by their national parties and national governments, we need to know who is succumbing to such pressure, so the vote must be in the open.

So, if you want to have an open budget vote in the EP, please add your name to this petition!

schulz-budgetImages used in the petition – all CC Sharealike License from Flickr. Schulz | Binoculars | Euros.


De eurostriptease / The Euro striptease – a video on a Flemish MEP’s official Youtube channel

UPDATE 14.30 – the original video, as I suspected, has been pulled from Youtube (it was here). As I stated in my blog post at 10.08 this morning, I downloaded the video before it was removed, and hence can show it for you here.

Watch this. But probably not in the office. It’s a video on the official Youtube channel of Flemish MEP Ivo Belet. His channel is here, and the channel is linked from the footer of his official website. The woman is speaking a slavic language (can someone identify which language?) and the subtitles are in Dutch – translated as follows:

Hello darlings!

I have been asked to make a commercial for the European Parliament elections

That’s hard!

Luckily I have a little idea!

This is especially for you!

This is just unacceptable. Full stop.

I’ve downloaded a copy of the video, just in case it gets removed from Youtube, so a record is kept that a MEP was campaigning in such a way.

[UPDATE – 14.40] As he points out in the comments, I’ve forgotten to point out here that it was Craig Willy who managed to dig up this video in the first place. Apologies for not crediting you earlier, Craig!