It’s time the British public and the media took MEPs and the European Parliament more seriously. I should qualify that remark by saying that I am well aware of the tendency of politicians of all shapes and sizes to assume an exaggerated sense of their own importance. However, my plea is not motivated by personal aggrandisement but by the need to project British national interest. On any objective measure there is no doubting that MEPs’ political responsibility has increased markedly in the past 20 years since the Maastricht treaty, when co-decision between parliament and Council was introduced, and particularly so since the Lisbon treaty came into force in December 2009, when its powers were extended. Certainly in almost twelve years as an MEP I have noticed far greater interest in and coverage of my work by my London constituents and the media, although ironically foreign media are often more interested in my work than British journalists.
Janusz Lewandowski, Commissioner responsible for Financial Programming and Budget, has recently sent a letter to all EU institutions asking them to cut their administrative budgets in 2012, in line with Member States austerity policies, which include cuts in administrative expenditure. He said that they “cannot ignore the broader economic and budgetary context.”
A European Parliament’s document “The responses to the discharge questionnaire 2009” provides a never-ending list of examples where taxpayers money has been wasted. It is not difficult, therefore, to find examples of administrative expenditure that should be cut or, in fact, scrapped.
However, it seems that the European Parliament is not planning to cut but to increase its budget. According to TheParliament.com Geoffrey Van Orden, MEP has criticized the bureau for intending to increase the European Parliament’s 2012 administrative budget to €1.7bn.
Back in 2005, the European Parliament decided to establish a new public Visitors’ Centre at its premises in Brussels, the so called “Parlamentarium.” According to Marjory Vanden Broeke, a parliament spokeswoman at the time, the existing visitor centre “…is too small to meet the fast-growing demand from individuals and visitor and school groups.” Hence, the European Parliament felt the need to have the 6,000 square metre space to accommodate 500,000 visitors annually. But one could ask why is the European Parliament spending taxpayer’s money on another visitors centre.
Unsurprisingly, the answer is to increase citizens’ interest in the institution. It is interesting to note that the European Parliament since the first elections in 1979 has been acquiring more powers through the treaties whereas the voter turnout has been declining over the years.
The Centre’s purpose is to explain the European Parliament’s role in EU decision making and “in representing citizens and their concerns.” Moreover, it will also inform the so called 500,000 annual visitors, in the EU’s 23 official languages, “on the historical development and impact of European integration on European societies” and “on each citizen’s daily life.” The European Parliament is therefore spending taxpayers’ money in a EU propaganda centre.
The centre was initially estimated to cost €15m and it was due to open before the European Elections in June 2009. However, as the majority of Brussels’ projects, it is delayed and over budget. The construction has only started last August and the European Parliament has already spent €23m in this state-of-the-art venue, which will have interactive features allowing visitors to simulate the work of an MEP.
The Parlamentarium has now been estimated to cost €31.6 million and is expected to open its doors next October. However, the costs are likely to be higher. Once again the European Parliament has missed the point, it will never get closer to citizens spending their money in a project that, in fact, it does not need. Who can trust the EU institutions?