As recent Masters degree graduates who have just started their careers in Brussels, we still enjoy a rather down to earth, and some might say even a naive look at how things work in the capital of the EU. Taking this into consideration, we thought it would be useful to bring the EU closer to its citizens by shedding light on the work of those vowed to represent us, the Members of the European Parliament (MEPs).
Alongside the work already carried out by VoteWatch, where citizens can scrutinise the positions taken by their MEPs based on their votes in the European Parliament plenary sittings, we hope to introduce to you quite another dimension of the work of an MEP, namely the Questions and Answers (Q&A). To hold the EU institutions accountable, MEPs have the right, as granted by the European Parliament Rules of Procedures 115, 116 and 117, to pose questions to the Commission, Council and other European Union bodies either orally during the Plenary sessions or in a written form.
Europe is a diverse place. Nowhere else is this more evident than in the European Parliament itself where its 766 members (soon to be reduced to 751 after 2014 elections) represent a great array of interests following their political and ideological affiliations. MEPs ask questions covering a broad range of topics and use many different styles. While we believe that the vast majority of MEPs are honourable people and strive to do their work to their best knowledge and ability, we also believe that citizens and the public sphere know very little of their actual work and achievements. We accept that focusing on MEPs’ questions is a significant simplification of their duties and does not take into consideration their activities outside of Rules 115, 116 and 117. The purpose of this post, however, will be to present and categorise questions the way we perceive them in hope of popularising the work of the Parliament, while not denying limitations that our subjective selection brings.
With this in mind, we set out to review all the questions submitted in September. Our inspiration to embark on this project came from one particular question we came across while browsing the Parliamentary Questions webpage. In her question to the Commission, Diane Dodds (NI) asked: ‘can the Commission state whether it sent a message of congratulations to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on the recent birth of their baby boy, Prince George Alexander Louis?’. We found the question rather unusual to say the least and this prompted an investigation into the other questions asked by her colleagues. After a period of careful review, we have decided to divide the questions that have been catching our attention into six categories:
1. The most legalistic question: Those MEPs who like to be very precise but at the same time use complex language and make reference to a number of legal documents in their questions would find themselves in this category.
2. The most locally focused question: Questions in this category will speak of issues largely locally based and although potentially relevant to all EU citizens, they are de facto asked on behalf of one’s own constituents and them only.
3. The most EU-relevant question: Questions featuring in this category would prove to be the most EU-centric and they are designed to target issues which are cross-cutting and relate to EU citizens at large. They will often make a reference to the values and core principles on which the EU is built and can be found in Articles 2 and 3 of the Treaty on the European Union.
4. The most Eurosceptic question: While it could be argued that most of the MEPs elected into the European Parliament serve the principles on which the EU was established, this cannot be said of all members, especially those coming from Eurosceptic countries or parties. Some questions posed show strong anti-EU sentiment with little substance or intent to genuinely seek answers from the Commission.
5. The best rhetorically gifted and politically charged question: For a question to feature in this category, it would have to show strong characteristics of a political speech, ideally enriched by figures of speech. The question could resemble a poetic text with some degree of politicised content.
6. The most unexpected question: This category will gather the questions deemed unusual if their content and/or form prove to be of an entertaining value. In other words, one would be surprised to learn that the European Parliament would be interested in investigating such an issue.
This initiative will bring you a review of questions from the previous month. As for our first take on the MEPs’ questions, those from September 2013, the questions selected for each of the categories are as follows:
The most legalistic question of September 2013 has been attributed to Marian Harkin (ALDE, IE) (@MarianHarkin) for her question ‘Incorrect transposition of Directive 85/337/EEC’ –
‘In relation to ECJ Case C-50/09 (European Commission v Ireland) regarding the incorrect transposition of Directive 85/337/EEC, what is the legal status of planning permissions granted in Ireland in contravention of Article 3 or other articles of this directive, and what recourse is available to individuals who have been adversely affected by planning permissions granted in contravention of this EU legislation?’
‘Goodyear France has announced that attempts to find a purchaser for its Amiens-Nord factory have failed, condemning the site to closure and threatening 1 173 jobs.
Goodyear Dunlop Tires France announced, during the central works council, that no purchasers were interested in Amiens following the study by the French Agency for International Investment (AFII). In total, 57 companies were contacted by AFII offices worldwide. Eight companies expressed their interest, five signed a confidentiality agreement and two non-binding offers were submitted. None of the candidates was in a position to submit a binding offer.
Goodyear adds that plans for a cooperative put forward by a trade union did not represent a ‘solution to the problem of recurrent losses in activity’.
1. Is the Commission aware of the closure of Goodyear France?
2. Does it provide aid for the implementation of cooperatives within the framework of the European Globalisation Adjustment Fund (EGF)?
3. Will the group benefit or does it benefit from other support measures from the European Union?
4. What guarantees have been made with regard to respect for rights relating to work, and in particular the right to a job?’
‘The European Union allows citizens to live and work in any MemberState. The Commission (including in its answer to a previous question of mine) has also emphasised that the right to free movement is one of the most important and most precious rights in the EU. Despite this, however, foreign workers are still encountering discrimination in some countries. This is a situation that particularly affects Polish citizens.
In the Netherlands, for example, a summit — the brainchild of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment — is apparently soon to be held, devoted to issues surrounding immigrants from the former Communist countries. Deputy Prime Minister Lodewijk Asscher has called for a curb on the employment of foreigners, while the Party for Freedom is calling for immigrants to be prevented from moving to The Hague.
In the UK, the Minister for Immigration has apparently hit out at British businesses for employing large numbers of Polish workers, even though the main reason the vacancies exist is because not enough British people are willing to take on the kinds of jobs concerned. The Mayor of London, for his part, has asked why there are no Londoners working in restaurants and cafés.
Given the increasingly blatant witch-hunt that is being conducted against immigrants in these countries:
1. Is the Commission considering taking appropriate steps to put a stop to discrimination such as that mentioned above on the part of representatives of the authorities in the Member States?
2. What stance is the Commission taking with regard to the fact that the authorities in the Netherlands are organising a political event the focus of which is clearly anti-foreigner?’
‘According to ‘The Guardian and the Commission’s website, the Commission is working on plans to make it compulsory to install speed limiters in all cars.
1. Is the Commission familiar with the report ‘UK fights EU bid to introduce speed limit devices’?
2. Is it true that the Commission is working on plans to make it compulsory to install speed limiters in vehicles?
3. Does the Commission agree that the compulsory installation of speed limiters is yet another instance of the Commission’s absurd and excessive mania for regulation and control? If not, why not?
4. Has the Commission now realised that its meddling is taking on Orwellian features? If not, what still needs to happen in order for this realisation to dawn?
5. Does the Commission agree with the PVV that people in the Netherlands do not need to be nannied in this awful way and have no desire to accept this far-reaching invasive interference in matters on which countries themselves can and should take decisions? If not, why not?
6. Will the Commission immediately consign its idiotic plans to the wastepaper basket? If not, why not?
7. How much tax revenue has the Commission so far spent on research for this project?
8. Will the Commission immediately halt any further funding of such meddling? If not, why not?’
‘The warnings have been coming almost every day for the last three months, but Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has ignored them all. Critics of the fourth revision of the Hungarian Constitution, which came into force a few weeks ago, agree that the new changes pose a threat to fundamental democratic rights in Hungary.
1. Does the Council intend to go on ignoring the implications of these constitutional changes? Does it not take the view that they are creating a situation in which the prime minister’s party, Fidesz, which has unlimited powers to legislate by virtue of its two-thirds majority in Parliament, would enjoy an unhealthy, legally sanctioned position of hegemony?
2. Does the Council support the views expressed in the letter to José Manuel Barroso from the German, Danish, Finnish and Dutch Ministers of Foreign Affairs in which the latter also condemn the current state of affairs?’
The most unexpected question for the month of September 2013 has exceptionally been awarded to two different questions as these are equally meriting and that the authors couldn’t decide for one above the other one. The selected questions are thus ‘Limit on purchases made in Louis Vuitton stores’ by Francesco Enrico Speroni (EFD, IT) –
‘The fashion company Louis Vuitton has reportedly set a limit on the number of its products (in particular women’s handbags) that individual customers may purchase in its stores.
Can the Commission confirm that such a practice exists?
Does it believe that this limit is compatible with current EU legislation, with the principles of the free market and competition, and with the laws governing the supply of goods on open sale to the public?
Can it confirm that Louis Vuitton’s business policies in the production phase are characterised by the extensive use of global resources, by recourse to international relocation procedures and by an at times considerable variation in the final price of the company’s goods depending on the market in which they are ultimately sold?
Does it consider it legitimate to apply a measure that, by only allowing the producer to benefit from procedures based on economic globalisation and globalisation of production, actually prevents goods from being purchased in a market in which they are offered to consumers at a more favourable price?
Does it believe that this measure, if confirmed, should be deemed protectionist and hence prohibited under current legislation?
Lastly, does it believe it should launch an appropriate investigation into the matter?’
‘More and more accidents in swimming pools are being reported. In particular there have been deaths caused by people’s hair becoming caught in the suction outlets of circulating pumps, due to the suction being too strong and the suction holes being too small.
1. How much does the Commission know about accidents in swimming pools? What is its assessment of the inadequate implementation of the EN 15288 standard, which has been in force since 2008?
2. What measures will the Commission take to ensure that public swimming pools and hotel pools are made safer and that suction systems no longer pose a threat?
3. What measures will the Commission take to encourage European tour operators to guarantee that European safety standards apply to the swimming pools used in the holidays which they organise?’