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"Simply The EU - A Guide for the Bewildered". This new book by Irish journalist and long-time friend to SNP MEPs, Dan OʼSullivan, is published at £11.99 and I commend it to SI readers. Dan believes that Europeʼs citizens will not see the EU as relevant unless they understand what itʼs all about. His book sets out, in plain language, to do just that.
So, what role do Europeʼs citizens play in the EU? With its cumbersome procedures and jargon the EU is indeed bewildering to most. Thatʼs where books like Danʼs can help untangle the knots. However, many citizens have become expert "amateur" lobbyists, regularly tackling their MEP on the issues they care about. Some constituents may feel they play no part in shaping EU legislation, but those who do make their views known through MEPs do a very good job.
Itʼs important for MEPs to hear all sides of an argument. For one person whose primary concern is animal welfare thereʼs another whose livelihood might be hit by legislation. We must balance these conflicting views.
Effective lobbying by independent software developers led Parliament recently to reject patents on computer implemented inventions. MEPs listened to large corporations who, understandably, sought to protect their investment in research and development, while independents warned that innovation would be stifled by patenting. Parliament backed the independents.
Food supplements suffered a different fate. Thousands of constituents pleaded with MEPs to stop the Commission banning supplements theyʼd safely taken for decades. Not one letter did I receive backing the Commission. No wonder those constituents felt let down by the EU when restrictive legislation was passed.
If the EU is serious about democracy and accountability, the role of constituents in helping shape legislation is vital. MEPs have a duty to voice their constituentsʼ views, acting as a conduit between the EU and her citizens and ensuring that Parliamentʼs democratic credentials are upheld.
Commission and Council have their part to play. The Council of Ministers could start by throwing open its meetings while the Commission, in its dialogue with Parliament, needs to listen to the democratic reflection of the views of the public. Councilʼs reluctance to permit public scrutiny and the Commissionʼs insensitivity to public opinion breeds Euro-scepticism.
EU leaders have talked of the need for the EU to reconnect with citizens ever since the fall of the Santer Commission. Seems weʼve some way to go yet.