Monday 19 July 2010

The European Citizen and better Euroblogging

Can independent Eurobloggers make a mark? Yes, if they deal with relevant issues and produce original content.

Conor Slowey aka Eurocentric, who writes The European Citizen blog, is a case in point. His thoughts on the state(s) of the Old Continent range from the (high) politics of the European Union to justice and home affairs (area of freedom, security and justice).

His blog entries are based on relevant sources, and his conclusions are measured.

As an example, read the latest series of blog posts by The European Citizen on the record of the Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) elected from Northern Ireland, one year on from the election.

Eurocentric dedicates a detailed blog post to each of the three MEPs: James Nicholson, Bairbre de BrĂșn and Diane Dodds.

The European Citizen then provides readers with an overview in the blog entry: Northern Ireland’s MEPs: One Year On.

Relevant content, good writing, facts, figures and analysis are the hallmark of The European Citizen.

Without being the first to look at MEPs’ records, Eurocentric is on to something which could – even should - be replicated across the European Union. Admittedly, numbers on various activities are crass, they still offer a basis for value judgments.

My blog entry is not meant to be a panegyric. I have tried to keep excessive praise out of the text, but The European Citizen deserves to be read and to be used as a schoolbook example for better Euroblogging.

Special case NI (& UK)

If other bloggers follow up on their (national) MEPs, there are a few things to keep in mind. The electoral politics and the relationship to the European Union of the United Kingdom in general, and Northern Ireland in particular, have their own characteristics.

Northern Ireland elected three MEPs, but none of them belongs to one of the mainstream political groups which actually run the show in the European Parliament (European People’s Party, Socialists and Democrats, Liberals and Democrats, possibly Greens/EFA).

Besides influence in the political group and EP bodies, the drafting of committee reports (and opinions to other committees) would in my view constitute a crucial element when evaluating the influence of an MEP. There are huge differences in importance between reports, so here qualitative analysis is called for, and it is feasible due to the low number of significant reports and opinions drafted even by a well respected and connected MEP.

With the Northern Ireland MEPs mainly outside the EP “power loop”, Eurocentric has had to analyse parliamentary questions, which are easy to concoct and usually lead to inconclusive replies. In other words, more lightweight stuff.

The opinion climate and the electoral system leading to the election of less influential Members of the European Parliament in Northern Ireland (and United Kingdom) are interesting questions in their own right. But that’s another story, Kipling would have said.

Ralf Grahn


  1. Thanks, that's very flattering!

    I agree with you on how the size and influence of the group impacts on the work and (potential)influence of an MEP. In my posts I was tending to focus on a review of each with comparisons between the Northern Ireland MEPs, but I'll add a post on the wider EP context as well.

    In a way, it has been an easier job looking through the statistics and documents (though it was surprisingly time consuming) because there were few Committee documents. This meant that there was less need to follow documents through (though there was a bit of that). The 1 minute limit on most speeches also made it easier to track the content and range of topics, though I refrained from putting too much detail in.

    I hope more bloggers will check up on their constituency MEPs, especially since there are great resources on the EP website and VoteWatch. Still, I can understand the disinsentives: the time needed to do it, and the lack of a clear "constituency MEP" in countries where there are simple national lists.

  2. Eurocentric,

    If you find it flattering, my appreciation of real work checking sources (aka research) is a main explanatory factor. Congratulations on fine writing.

    If you do expand to the wider EU context, you might want to document your progress step by step, in order to describe the process for others.

    If some would follow your approach (the highest form of flattery), the procedures could later be refined through added experience, if shared.

    Perhaps a few editors or listed blogs could find the inspiration to try.

    (The MEPs don't have to be from one's own country; might as well be from a certain party/group, or with modifications: issue vs EP committee - to name a few possible variations.)

  3. Eurocentric,

    Just an added thought on "constituency MEP":

    I would need a lot of convincing before I admit that the purpose of representative democracy is to give me my own elected representative to take care of my personal interests (and possibly bend the rules in my favour), or to distribute pork to me and the constituency.

    Sounds like clientelism to me.

    Don't we need sensible legislators for European level rules applicable equally to all EU citizens?

  4. I agree that clienetelism should be avoided, and MEPs should be open to questions, etc. from other EU citizens as well.

    However I think that constituency MEPs are good in that they tend to be closer to the citizen by having a clearly identifible constituency that they represent, and citizens can hold MEPs more easily to account. Also, some areas have geniunely different needs and concerns. For example, Northern Ireland as a rural area has concerns that are different to London (different stances on CAP and maybe bank regulation, etc.), and it's easier for citizens to have a say that bypasses the national position if the MEPs weren't elected on a national basis.

    Having pan-EU elections for some EP seats would be a good way of strengthening pan-European political debate and focus on the common good more, and I support the electoral reform proposals that the Constitutional Affairs Committee recently brought forward. Still, I believe constituency-elected MEPs should be in the majority in the chamber.

    (Perhaps I've missed the point of your argument and you're arguing against the "independent MEP". I agree that in the EP it makes little sense to vote for an independent, but it can be helpful for the political debate sometimes).

  5. Eurocentric,

    Despite your arguments for small(er) constituencies I feel that proportional representation is key to opening the European Parliament (and national parliaments) to different political programmes and views.

    A proportional system offers at least some chance for new political parties to emerge, despite the odds being stacked against them (visibility, funding etc.), so it is a safety valve for democracy against the danger of petrifying old parties.

    On the other hand, proportional systems need effective executives, as shown by the history of the third and fourth republics in France.

    With regard to the EP elections, I assume that we both agree on the need for people to reflect on the EP group (or none) and the potential influence of their choices at EU/EP level, instead of just domestically.

  6. I don't think we're that far apart on this issue. I'm still for proportional representation, and constituencies don't have to be that small. However, it is a good idea to have constituencies that are smaller than the member state in all but the smallest member states. I think that way it would make the MEPs from those countries feel less like national delegations. There would still be several MEPs per constituency elected by PR. Sorry if I dodn't make my position clear.

    I fully agree on the need for a more central role for the Europarties.

  7. Eurocentric,

    I respect your reasoned opinion, but I still suspect that we may see constituency size (proportionality) differently.

    Ultimately, the European Parliament should be based on "one person, one vote", giving each citizen's vote roughly equal weight.

    Currently the smallest states are hugely overrepresented.

    Not only is the basis wrong - state instead of citizen - but the negotiated result concerning "degressive proportionality" skews the vote weight, as the German Federal Constitutional Court remarked.

    The potential accession countries in the Western Balkans as well as Iceland would further distort representation from the perspective of EU citizens.

    If we want proportionality, I wonder if national constituencies are too small in many cases, rather than too big.

  8. Possibly. I think we've discussed the degressive proportionality issue before.

    If the citizen-to-MEP ratio was made equal across the EU, I wonder how far that would affect the Bundesverfassungsgericht's view of European citizenship (which it undervalued in its Lissabon Urteil). (Also, if citizen's political rights are gradually extended to voting in national elections of host states, I wonder if that would have an effect. Though that would be up to national legislatures). Interestingly, the constituency sizes in the UK for the Wesminster Parliament aren't equal either - so on that point the UK Parliament is as illegitimate as the EP(!).

  9. Eurocentric,

    The EU citizenship is a bonus, added to our national citizenship, but if I remember correctly the German Constitutional Court said that there needs to be democratic accountability at EU level or, failing that, at national level.

    The policy areas I propose for the EU level (foreign policy, defence etc.) require EU level democracy.


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