1. The women who shape Brussel
BSSB.BE globalpolicyjournal.com 20/12/2018
* No way, it is not dear Frau Merkel but who then? Who is taking back control and EU are slowly gaining power…
Transfer of power to Brussels may weaken member states, but it empowers citizens – it is a pity EU citizens do not know their own power, writes Caroline de Gruyter (European Council on Foreign Relations).
!The news site Politico Europe recently produced one of many inevitable end-of-year rankings, “The women who shape Brussels – class of 2018”. It was interesting to see that, in a European Union that is widely perceived as undemocratic, MEPs were up high on this list.
Among them, the so-called “tech MEP gang” scored highest. This “sisterhood”, as Politico calls them, includes influential MEPs such as Marietje Schaake (pictured), Eva Kaili, Mady Delvaux, and Pilar del Castillo Vera. They help shape European laws on robots, blockchain, intellectual property rights, and privacy. These women are feared in Silicon Valley. And in many European capitals too.
It is ironic that the only ones who don’t really seem to care about this powerful “gang” are the European voters they are supposed to represent, and in whose names they wage their fierce political battles. Many Europeans do not read Politico. What MEPs do – be they men or women – does not interest them in the least. Brussels, for them, is too far away. They perceive “Europe” as an elite project: “let’s take back control.”
This is a pity, because things have really changed a little in recent years:
- Citizens often associate MEPs with a toothless, expensive parliament that no one has any control over, but this perception is somewhat outdated.
- Under the 2010 Treaty of Lisbon, member states have given the EU additional powers in aspects of external relations such as trade agreements, foreign policy, and the EU’s position within the United Nations.
- The European Parliament has gained power in these fields too. This follows a democratic logic: if one takes policy to a higher level, democratic control should follow.
- Although it is far from perfect, the treaty expanded democratic participation a little. And the “female tech gang” has made full use of it. By asking questions, vetoing draft proposals, and putting forward amendments to such proposals, MEPs from across the EU have influenced – for example – agreements on data exchange and counter-terrorism with the United States in a way that was impossible before.
According to a Eurobarometer survey published in September 2018,
- just 41 percent of European citizens know when the next European Parliament elections will be held (May 2019).
- Only 51 percent declare an interest in them. A poll taken in April this year found that “a great majority think that people would abstain [from voting in the elections] because ‘they believe that their vote will not change anything’, ‘they distrust the political system’ or ‘are not interested in politics or in elections in general’.
- ” The prevailing assumption is still that the European Parliament is useless because citizens “aren’t heard anyway”.
In a remarkable inaugural lecture at the University of Amsterdam in early November, European law professor Christina Eckes challenged that assumption. Eckes pointed out that “while transferring powers to the EU limits the unilateral autonomy of national governments, it increases control for EU citizens over central aspects of international relations, such as the conclusion of international agreements.”
In other words: the transfer of power to Brussels may weaken member states, but it empowers citizens. Why? Because the European Parliament now has a key role in negotiating and finalising international treaties. As a result, it can exercise more control over institutions that implement these treaties – since they are European – than national parliaments can. In this way, Eckes argues, “European integration allows European citizens to retain control over international policies in a globalised world.”
Caroline de Gruyter is a Europe correspondent and columnist for the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad and a Council Member of the European Council on Foreign Relations.
- The publication is not an editorial. It reflects solely the point of view and argumentation of the author. The publication is presented in the presentation. Start in the previous issue. The original is available at: globalpolicyjournal.com