Green Steve Visits the European Parliament
Last week I had the opportunity to visit the European Parliament in Strasbourg to look around, talk to some very interesting people and find out how some of the big decisions that affect our everyday lives are made.
While I was there, I also managed to corner a couple of green MEPs long enough to interview them and in the coming days I’ll be posting some of the comments they made and answers they gave but for this short post I just want to give you my main thoughts and feelings from my trip.
I have a fairly keen interest in politics in the UK but I had never really thought about how that translates into Europe so this trip was hopefully going to educate me on how legislation is passed among the 27 member states.
I spent most of my time in the Louise Weiss building where the main chamber is located and it is a remarkable place (click photos below to enlarge) but obviously I was there with my green hat on and it seemed so large and open that I couldn’t help but wonder what impact it’s heating and lighting has on the environment and whether it is truly necessary.
I believe that Parliament is only in session in Strasbourg for a few days each month and while it was teeming with life while I was there, if it remains heated and lighted for the remainder of the time just to accommodate tourists and school trips then just what sort of example is being set?
I’ve yet to hear a persuasive argument as to why the EP even has a Strasbourg home when it has a perfectly suitable one in Brussels.
The Press officer of the European Parliament UK Information office writes:
A huge number of MEPs have over the years expressed the strong desire to stop meeting in two places. Unfortunately it is not up to the Parliament to take that decision: member states decided unanimously in the two seat arrangement and France would have to give its consent to revert to a one seat arrangement (meeting just in Brussels). This does not seem likely any time soon.
On the plus side, the Parliament buildings all had ample recycling facilities for visitors, MEPs and press alike which I was pleased to see.
A Picture Paints A Thousand Words
One of the most interesting things I found out from talking to some of the people there was just how legislation is constructed and passed. From my understanding the process goes something like this:
- A committee is formed to investigate or report on an issue or topic.
- Their recommendations are put forward to member states and to the various “groups” that exist within the Parliament (for example The Greens – European Free Alliance).
- Negotiations then take place in a fairly closed door manner with representatives from each state/group trying to influence the legislation to get concessions that either benefit their state or fall in line with their group’s viewpoint.
- When the legislation then comes to vote, the MEPs will be guided by their state/group representative on how to vote.
This might not be exactly how things always run but it does have its issues. For example, I was in a press conference about the waste and recycling of electronic equipment (I’ll talk more about this another time) and the MEP in charge of this report and the subsequent legisltaion commented on how much had to be changed from his initial draft to accommodate the wants and needs of the members.
Now I’m a realist and I know that we don’t live in a utopian society where everyone agrees but it struck me just how much of a struggle it must be to pass a law that benefits the environment to its absolute utmost when certain countries and political groups want something different.
I guess the same can be said about debates that go on among the wider international community such as those in Durban recently.
I’m going to have a long think about how politicians and the green movement might not always see eye to eye and what, if anything, can be done to bring them closer together but that can wait for another day.
Seeing Is Believing
Another thought on the European Parliament today comes from a conversation I had on my very first night in Strasbourg at “drinks” being held for some of the press in attendance. I asked someone in the know about the press coverage and how it varies from country to country and it seems like the UK is not quite as well represented as I’d have expected.
Apparently the main broadsheets still send a correspondent to sessions in Strasbourg and Brussels but as far as TV goes it’s pretty minimal. I know the UK public are notoriously wary of European institutions because of the often heard cry of a euroskeptic in Westminster but to not have someone like the BBC or Sky covering these important proceedings seems a little bit naïve.
I think people in the UK would be more engaged and interested in what goes on in Europe if they were better informed about it in a non-biased way.
When it comes to the environment, the European Parliament has a great deal of power and influence over what member countries can do and from what I have heard this is the most sensible approach. Setting standards across borders can help reduce waste and make it easier for technologies to be developed with clear markets to operate in. In subsequent posts relating to my trip I will give some examples of where this is the case.
My biggest gripe with the European Parliament from what I heard and saw was the length of time it takes for laws to come into force. It certainly takes months and can take years for important legislation to be agreed upon and ratified – this is simply too long in my opinion as we haven’t got the luxury of time if we are to successfully avoid catastrophic changes to our climate.
This is why I think that, while politicians and institutions like the EP have a massive role to play in combating climate change, businesses and individuals have an equally important role because they can make massive changes on a much quicker basis.
What do you think? Are politicians doing a good job on the environment? Is the European Parliament just a waste of time, money and resources? Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below and don’t forget to follow me on Twitter and Facebook.
I’d also like to say a big thank you to Paola and Olga from the EP Information Office in the UK for giving me this amazing opportunity and for helping me around while I was there.
Leave a Reply
For every comment you make, I'll offset 30 car miles of greenhouse gas emissions!