Despite a doubling of powers for the European Parliament in the last two decades – a triumph for what the euro-elite call “more Europe” – turnout in elections to the European Parliament fell from 57 per cent in 1994 to 43 per cent at the last elections in 2009, according to a new study by Open Europe think tank.
Yet with few exceptions, such as foreign policy and aspects of eurozone governance, the European Parliament “is now on an equal footing with national governments in deciding EU laws, particularly regulation of the single market.”
According to the report: “Data from the European Commission’s own Eurobarometer public opinion surveys shows that, across the EU, there is no correlation between voter turnout and awareness of the European Parliament or interest in EU affairs,” the report says.
For example, “In the Netherlands, 61 per cent say they are interested in European affairs – the highest in the EU – yet the turnout of voters at 36 per cent is one of the lowest.”
“At root the European Parliament’s failure to connect with voters across Europe is a consequence of the lack of a European demos” — that is, a people who view themselves as a nation.
Open Europe points out that the two largest parliamentary groups, the first known as the European People’s Party (EPP), made up of centre-right MEPs from across the EU, and the second, known as the Socialist and Democrat (S&D) Group, made up of MEPs from centre-left parties across the EU, and which together form an overwhelming majority in the parliament, “voted the same way 74 per cent of the time in the 2009-14 parliament.”
Open Europe says the two groups, these two parliamentary “families,” show a bias towards “more Europe” in their voting.
This is hardly surprising, since the European Parliament (EP) gave the various parliamentary groups €55,893,393 in 2012. Of this, the majority went to these two largest groups, with the centre-right EPP receiving €21,127,608 and the centre-left S&D €14,907,889.
“The EP’s budget has also risen significantly in recent years from just over €1.4bn in 2008 to over €1.7bn a year in 2014. This, many MEPs claim, is justified by them having expanded their work load as a result of the Lisbon Treaty.”
“However, there are many areas where EP spending could and should be cut. The EP’s budget is used to pay for MEPs, their staff and administration, but it is also used to fund activities” – what critics call propaganda – “designed to foster a European demos and pan-European democracy.”
Examples of the level of spending by the parliament include these figures from 2012:
Limousines: The EP awarded a contract worth €11,883,000 to TMS Limousine, a chauffeur driven vehicle hire company based in Brussels.
Cars: The EP also has its own car fleet, and according to the list of contracts awarded, it bought a few new vehicles in 2012. These included a new Audi for the President of the EP (€59,999); a new BMW for the President of the Socialist (S&D) Group, the group of the Labour Party (€57,106); also a new Jaguar (€59,607) and a new BMW (€58,177) for the parliament’s fleet.
The EP awarded a total €55,000 (divided into two lots) to a Portuguese company for the restoration of artworks from the EP’s art collection. A separate contract worth €133,200 was awarded to a Spanish company for “valorisation” of the EP’s art collection.
The cost of maintaining the parliament’s three luxurious seats – Brussels, Strasbourg, and Luxembourg, where the parliament’s secretariat is located – is now €180m a year.
MEPs are paid €96,246 per year but receive generous tax free allowances and pensions. This compares very favourably to Westminster MPs who are paid less, have to contribute to their pension and receive less in terms of allowances for staff.
The report notes that the MEPs’ General Expenditure Allowance, which amounts to €51,588 a year, “remains vulnerable to abuse, as it is paid to MEPs and can be spent without the production of receipts.”