The European Parliament’s Lust for More Power
The European Parliament’s Lust for More Power
The new presidency of Martin Schulz does not alter the course of the European Parliament much. It might be a presidency of political bias but the main problem remains, namely the Parliament’s lack of political vision.
For the past two and a half years it was widely expected that Martin Schulz would be the next chairman of the European Parliament. Due to an agreement between the two biggest factions in the European Parliament, the European Peoples Party (EPP) and the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D), the presidency is to alternate between the two. This is why it was surprising that there were two other contenders for the position. Diana Wallis, a UK Liberal, and Nirj Deva, member of the European Conservatives and Reformists, also stood for the election and in doing so, diverged from the quotidian EP custom. Most prominently, Deva claimed, “our strength is our people. We are elected to represent the people not some strange institution”. In a similar voice, Wallis urged Schulz to avoid the single-minded focus on expanding the powers of the European Parliament in the inter-institutional arena.
Seemingly unaffected by these remarks, Schulz, in his inauguration speech, claimed more power for the European Parliament in inter-institutional affairs. This is an opinion, which in my view, is voiced by most MEP regardless of their faction or political agenda. Subsequently, Schulz complained about the 'summitry' of European Union politics nowadays and the resulting exclusion of the European Parliament from closed-door negotiations. He blames the negative public opinion of the EU among European citizens on the exclusion of the European Parliament from decision-making, which is a view prominent with those seeing intergovernmental negotiations as lacking democratic influence. Yet, he fails to remark on the problems of the European Parliament in itself—the lack of transparency, the physical abstentions, and the budget increases. Still, he does not miss to claim more working space and money for the parliament vis-a-vis the other institutions. It is no wonder then that a majority of people in the last opinion poll conducted indicated that the European Parliament is only badly listening to European citizens.
To be fair, Schulz has set out his agenda. He wants to fight for a better future for the youth, cut the influence of rating agencies, struggle for a better social security system, and fight the public’s lack of confidence in the European as well as national parliaments. Of course, this should be accompanied with more areas under European Parliament influence through more extensive use of the community method in decision-making. The community method refers to a transferal of power from member states to the European level, the installation of supranational institutions, such as the Commission, and the possibility of voting in the Council. Overall, it is a regime that originates from the institutional setting. In contrast, the intergovernmental method, as criticized by Schulz, approaches European decision making from an intergovernmental angle stressing the importance of member states in finding solutions and preferring lowest-common denominator solutions. According to Schulz, the community method should help to put the general good (of the EU) over the national one.
Given that these demands mostly represent the core interests of the social democrats, the responses to this were relatively unisonous. All parties, including the EPP, fear a very social democratic presidency and political bias resulting from Schulz’s record as an edged, aggressive and intransigent parliamentarian. Nigel Farage, leader of the Europe of Freedom and Democracy Group, even compared the election of Schulz to a “banana republic”, arguing that the lack of democracy and legitimacy as well as the pre-negotiated character of the election process is comparable to that of a third world country. Overall, nearly all responses have been directed this direction. Schulz’s response was very emotional and it seemed that the accusations of political bias were a surprise to him. Nevertheless he announced he would be a president for all parliamentarians and will not favor a political stance. In words he might have cleared himself from this accusation by announcing that he would get in closer contact to his competitors for office. Obviously he has not learned from the arguments of Deva and Wallis—focus attention on the people instead of the institution.
Time will tell whether Schulz is able to reach political neutrality and change the course of the parliament significantly. In a couple of weeks he is going to represent the European Parliament in the European Council for the first time. Then all European citizens can learn whether he only demands more influence for the parliament or whether he actually supports a vision for the European Parliament working in conjunction with national governments.
Schulz has voiced that he wants to enliven enthusiasm for the European project of being United in Diversity. When he outlined his image of the future, it was the first time he showed the characteristics of a candidate with broader hopes and dreams, rather than one whose goals were limited to the functioning of the Parliament. He highlighted the success of the European Union in the past and pictured the enthusiasm for the European project in the rest of the world. He wanted to bring this enthusiasm back to Europe's youth despite grave youth unemployment and pessimism about the future. The fascination of overcoming Gulags, Auschwitz and trenches, he said, is synonymous with the European dream. In essence he wants to help lighten the image of Europe that has left its worst moments behind, is united in a trade union, and looks to be major world player in the years to come. The dream is told, the vision is there, but whether Schulz will be able to bite the bullet and work for more than just the European Parliament is hard to imagine given his past performance.
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.