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First impressions of the new European Parliament

New MEP finds head-melting mix of good and bad but is determined to continue to make a difference

By Mick Wallace

OF COURSE I understood that the European Parliament represents a different way of working to that of the Dáil, but to say just how the European Parliament compares with what I had expected is difficult, mainly because I didn’t really know what to expect. I knew that it could be even more frustrating, if that’s possible, than the Dáil, that it was a structure which had neoliberalism built into its very essence, and that it was likely to present us with the political challenge of addressing the difficulty of making a real difference.

Deciding to run for the European elections was not an easy decision. I’m still not certain that it was the right one; only time will tell. I’ve spent the best part of six weeks in Brussels and Strasbourg and the early experience has been head-melting. So far it’s been a mix of negative and positive. On the negative side the bureaucracy does my head in! Both Clare Daly and I got elected as Independents under the Independents 4 Change banner, with every intention of remaining Independent.

One of our first challenges was to join a group of some sort: we soon discovered that there’s no perfect group, they all seem to be a bit of a mixed bag, and all challenging our natural allergy to political parties. We ended up with GUE/NGL (the Confederal Group of the European United Left/Nordic Green Left which brings together left-wing MEPs) – by no means perfect, but it was the grouping that allowed us the most freedom as Independents and they were the only grouping that didn’t apply a whip system – God knows, I was never very fond of being told what I should think.

The battle for committees was next, and I eventually got what I wanted – Environment and Food Safety, which is a huge area, and is sure to be central to much of the parliamentary proceedings for the next five years. I also got Foreign Affairs, along with Security and Defence – the battle to prioritise peace over war, and to stop the ‘not so gradual’ militarisation of Europe has begun. A cursory glance suggests that I might regularly find myself in a minority – but nothing new there. The real work in the European Parliament takes place at committee level, and there are many strands to it.

As an individual member of a committee you can look for a file on a particular issue, or for a directive, or for another piece of legislation that you are interested in. You can also look to be a co-ordinator where you would be the rep for your group on a particular file or piece of legislation, or you could look to be a rapporteur where you would be spokesperson for the file for all the co-ordinators of the different groups.

There are also good opportunities to speak at committees. On the last pre-vacation sitting week, I managed to speak twice at the Environmental Committee. I spoke first on the Mercosur trade deal which I strongly believe should be opposed – it is bad for the environment, bad for food-safety standards and bad for the future of smaller family farms across Europe.

I also spoke on the need to stop the use of glyphosate, better known in Ireland as ‘Roundup’. Its connection to any form of food production should not be tolerated. It is extremely bad for our health despite what the best science, that Monsanto’s money could buy, may have said.

I also got to speak twice at the Foreign Affairs committee, and aside from having the opportunity to have my say, it was also good to be allowed to challenge two big hitters. I got to question the impressive Helga Schmid, Secretary General of the European Union’s diplomatic service, the EEAS, on Iran, and I also got to challenge the less impressive Gilles Bertrand, Head of the EU Delegation to Syria, about his outrageous support for regime-change in Syria.

The previous week, I got to speak four times at the Parliament’s Plenary session in Strasbourg. I had fought like a bear for speaking time through the GUE/NGL group and failed, but by sitting through long debates from start to finish, managed to grind out speaking time on issues ranging from the Mercosur trade deal to challenging Federica Mogherini, EU Commission Head of Foreign Affairs, on how the EU is prepared to ignore International laws when it comes to Venezuela and Iran, conceding to the will of the US regime.

It is early days yet but we do realise that we will have to work harder in Europe than at home, to make a difference, but that’s a challenge we relish. The numbers of MEPs are big out here but already we see a lot of people who we don’t believe will put the work in. We are also conscious of the fact that there’s a serious lack of democracy in how Europe works – but we didn’t stand for election to the European Parliament to just go with the flow.

We believe in the European project but Europe must change, and we will do our damndest to change it. Right now it is undemocratic, it is wedded to neoliberalism, and if it continues to prioritise the interest of large corporations and big business over those of the people of Europe, the European project as we know it will perish.

If it doesn’t change direction, the likely departure of the British could be the beginning of the end – but we didn’t come to Brussels to put an end to the European project, we’ve come to try to save it from itself.