In a new report published this morning we assess the track record of the European parliament and conclude that it has failed as an institution on a number of fronts. Although many individual MEPs work hard and conscientiously for their constituents, the European Parliament as a whole has failed to gain popular democratic legitimacy. Still, given that the EP now has a lot of power to decide law that impacts on people’s every day life – from working hours to browsing the web – there’s a lot of reason to vote in the European elections.
Here are the key findings:
- Turnout has fallen despite an increase in MEPs’ powers: While the use of ‘co-decision’, under which MEPs have equal status with national ministers in passing EU legislation, has more than doubled during the last two decades – from 27% to 62% – turnout in European elections has fallen from 57% to 43%. Yes, yes, correlation not causation (as the old twitter cliché goes) but point is: if the EP was effective in closing the democratic deficit, we would see exactly the opposite trend.
- There is no correlation between voter turnout and knowledge of the European Parliament or interest in EU affairs: A common explanation for low turnout in European elections is a lack of public knowledge of EU politics and the EU institutions yet this is not borne out by our research. For example, in Romania 81% and Slovakia 79% of people say they are aware of the European Parliament but only 28% and 20% turned out to vote in 2009.
Likewise, low turnout cannot be explained by a lack of interest – in the Netherlands, 61% say they were interested in European affairs – the highest in the EU – yet the turnout of voters at 36% is one of the lowest.
- The main party groups in the European Parliament agree with each other three quarters of the time: It probably won’t come as a surprise to anyone who watched any of the ‘debates’ between Martin Schulz and Jean-Claude Juncker that, despite representing national parties of different political traditions, the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) and centre-left Socialist and Democrat (S&D) party families voted the same way 74% of the time in the 2009-14 parliament. Meanwhile, the average majority in co-decision votes in the 2009-14 parliamentary term is over 75% – the highest it has ever been. In effect, this denies the voters the very same choice the EP is meant to boost.
- In 2012, the European Parliament spent €85 million on fostering a common European political identity through the party groups in the European Parliament and their affiliated pan-European parties and political foundations outside the parliament. This is only part of a budget that has been spiralling out of control – up from €1.4bn in 2008 to around €1.75bn in 2014.
Meanwhile, the €85 million spent on fostering a common European political identity through the party families in the parliament and their affiliated pan-European political parties and foundations should be cut. The 2009 reforms to MEPs’ allowances should be completed by requiring all allowances, such as the general expenditure allowance (worth €51,588 a year) which is vulnerable to misuse, to be conditional on the production of receipts.Open Europe blog team