Brexit has not shaken me nearly as much as it should have. The forlorn resignation of Brussels is reassuring. There is little actual panic. I am not saying there should be. But the whole thing has stirred up a few ideas within me on the future direction of the EU and what might be to stop the whole thing very slowly sinking into the abyss.
The European Parliament needs to go on strike
The Parliament is the world’s largest transnational directly elected assembly and has a strong and growing role in about 90% of decisions taken by the EU. Parliament is portrayed as somewhat ineffective in that it cannot directly initiate legislation- never mind that the overwhelming majority of law in all Parliamentary democracies is not initiated by Parliaments, but by executives – as is the case with the EU.
Furthermore, isn’t it somewhat astonishing when reform of the euro is suggested, for example, and calls for a “eurozone parliament” are heard that they are made with no reference what so ever to the possibility of eurozone MEPs carrying out this function within the existing framework? Parliment’s failure to impact this debate amongst others is lamentable.
A more telling sign of Parliament’s impotence is it’s location.
The European Parliament is mentioned in the treaties as the first institution of EU integration and the voice of the European people. Yet despite this, the member states refuse to allow Parliament to have a say over a rather basic bit of housekeeping- it’s location. Despite the Committee, group and other day to day functions of the body being carried out in Brussels, the treaties still obliges MEPs to decamp up to twelve times per year to Strasbourg, France at great stress to them and their staff and great expense to their taxpayers.
To improve their visibility, to increase their impact and to generally shake things up, I suggest all 751 MEPs boycott a least one Strasbourg plenary session and barricade themselves into the plenary chamber in Brussels partly as a protest at not having agency over their location. I’m borrowing somewhat from French and maybe even Irish history here. The circumstances are very different but I am hoping the example of directly elected representatives taking matters into their own hands will resonate.
As in the two historical cases mentioned, this is would be, of course, highly illegal and it is unlikely that any decision taken by this session would be taken as binding. This would free up the members to discuss far broader matters – it could be a proto-convention on the future of Europe. Members should share ideas on dealing with Brexit, the surge in migration and fairer and more transparent governance of the euro. Members should actively engage with their constituents in the run up to and during this convention.
Another suggestion I have concerns the budget.
It’s generally agreed that the money the EU spends particularly in the area of infrastructure is well spent as public spending goes. Spending on roads and rail has been targeted in a way so as to make less completive areas more cohesive with the rest of the continent. The goal has been laudable and significant progress has been made. But another gulf of cohesion has opened up- that of youth unemployment. I would propose slowly ratcheting up EU spending from 1 to 3% of EU GDP with an express aim at generating opportunities for the growing armies of NEETs whom are particularly prevalent in the south. A focus could be placed on a broad area of training ranging from getting people back to university to vocational training to practical preparation for the job market,
The potential for growth in this area is as strong as the potential for failure is lethal. Income inequality and youth unemployment are two of the bigger economic challenges of our time. Research shows education can be effective in tackling both. Here is an open goal for Europe to make itself useful.