Saturday, November 24, 2012

The European Parliament’s “diminishing legitimacy and authority”: On many days, parts of the building have the feel of a glitzy trade show

When cracks recently appeared in beams of the European Parliament’s main chamber, forcing its closing, 
writes James Kanter in the International Herald Tribune,
one member, Nigel Farage of the U.K. Independence Party, proclaimed that he would “work for the day that the whole democratic facade of the European Parliament is shut as well.”

Mr. Farage is an avowed anti-European known for extreme views. But even for Europeans who do not actively resent the Parliament, it has become a powerful symbol of how institutions designed to build a united Europe have faltered as the project faces the most serious crisis of its 60-year history. 

A poll conducted last November found “a sharp decline” in the European Parliament’s image compared with a similar poll in 2008, when Europe’s economic crisis bloomed.

… The Parliament’s “diminishing legitimacy and authority,” said Fredrik Erixon of the European Center for International Political Economy, a research group in Brussels, was “really very worrying at a time when people have been protesting in the streets against diktats from Europe to fix their economies.”

… The Parliament, with 754 members, is the only directly elected part of the apparatus that runs the European Union. But the percentage of eligible voters who have cast ballots every five years has declined to just over 40 percent from more than 60 percent in less than a quarter of a century. 

In the meantime, Mr. Erixon said, “lobbyists have stepped into the vacuum left by the weakening link between citizens and parliamentarians,” who are popularly resented for their web of generous allowances and the influence they wield over regulations. 

On many days parts of the parliament building have the feel of a glitzy trade show. Business lobbies organize conferences in meeting rooms and host meals in the dining rooms at the invitation of friendly members. They also mount exhibitions — some in seeming violation of the Parliament’s own guidelines. 

… representatives are allowed to hold second jobs with no limits on salaries and accept flights and accommodations without declaring all of them. By comparison, such practices are explicitly forbidden to members of the U.S. Congress. 

The rules prevent members who join or establish lobbying firms from using their lifetime access to Parliament once they leave office. But as of September, the parliament had not asked any former deputy to hand in a badge. More than 2,900 badges are held by registered lobbyists, according to officials in The Parliament’s press service.