[Blog] Building a Europe of progress: why the stakes are high in the European elections
London, 13 May 2014
With less than two weeks to go until the European elections, the vital nature of the EU has never been clearer. Along with its US allies, the EU is continuing to push for de-escalation of the alarming situation in Ukraine, extending its sanctions against Russia and helping to lay the groundwork for the presidential election later this month. In addition, EU troops are now present in the Central African Republic within EUFOR, joining African Union and French forces as they seek to restore security in the country and put an end to the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding there. Just last week, EU troops took control of security at the airport in the Central African capital, Bangui; as French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius put it, “things are moving up a gear”.
The EU will no doubt continue to be called upon on the world stage in the years to come. And it will also face its own tests, linked to the fast-evolving nature of the world we live in. Security, technology, climate change, healthcare and immigration are just a few of the issues that will require attention over the next five years. So, as economic recovery takes hold within the bloc, what better time to start strengthening the EU, and putting the foundations in place for a more robust, efficient and united Europe equipped to handle the challenges of the future?
This is where citizens come in. These elections are an opportunity to hear what they have to say about Europe: not only the EU as it stands today but also how they would like it to look in years to come. Here in the UK, as in France, some complain of feeling alienated from the European institutions and lacking a say in the democratic processes that affect them. These elections are a chance to reconnect with the EU and influence decisions that touch every aspect of our lives.
This year, 73 out of a total of 751 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) will come from the UK and 74 from France. Having had its powers boosted by the 2009 Lisbon Treaty, the Parliament now co-decides, along with the EU governments, in nearly all policy areas. The day-to-day work of MEPs in Strasbourg and Brussels impacts our lives in ways we may not even imagine, with MEPs helping to pass over 100 laws every year. Since the last European election, in 2009, the Parliament’s achievements have included capping roaming charges to bring down the cost of mobile phone use abroad, reforming the EU fisheries policy in order to protect fish stocks, new rules for clearer food labelling and anti-tobacco laws aimed at discouraging young people from smoking. MEPs have also been responsible for a recent review of rules on posted workers, to combat “social dumping” and more effectively punish fraud linked to the posting of workers from one EU country to another.
But whilst the European Parliament’s political powers are very significant, they do not undermine the sovereignty of national parliaments. In EU member states like France and the UK, European Scrutiny Committees have the power to refer draft EU legislation of particular legal and political importance for debate in parliament, before it receives clearance. What’s more, MEPs are the only directly-elected EU officials, making them accountable to the people who vote for them. This is why MEPs divide their time between the Parliament’s seats in Strasbourg and Brussels, and back in their constituency.
Over the next five years Europe will have the opportunity to grow, strengthen and become more united. It will seek out greater competitiveness on the world stage and further economic growth sustained by investment in transport, energy and research. The task of building this Europe is in the hands of the Council, the Commission and the Parliament, whose members we will elect in less than two weeks’ time to represent us. I echo the words of Laurent Fabius when I say that France is more committed than ever, along with its partners, to ensuring Europe moves forward. I hope that every European citizen will seize their chance to help shape the future of the EU – our future.
Bernard Emié, French Ambassador to the UK