We got to visit the European Parliament on Tuesday 17th June. You cannot just show up at the Parliament, you have to arrange the visit in advance. We would like to thank MEP Gay Mitchell for arranging the visit for us. It would have been much shorter for us to get from Paris to Berlin via Nancy and the Mosel but I wanted to see the EU Parliament as one of my Gap Year goals. Hence, the detour through Strasbourg.
When the parliament is not in session, they only allow groups of 20+ people in. The only way that Gay could get us in, was to arrange for us to join an English speaking group. This turned out to be a group of young people from Heidelberg College, an international summer school for third level students. It was very interesting to do the tour with them and hear their questions on the EU, as many of them were from non EU countries such as USA, Australia & Japan.
The building itself is fascinating in its own right. It is only used for one week in four when the Parliament meets there. When Parliament is in session, staff levels rise to about 4,000, otherwise there is only about 100 permanent staff. It seems such a waste of resources to see all the empty corridors and desks but it’s unlikely to change. Based on the history of Europe, you can see why France got agreement for Strasbourg to be the joint home of the Parliament with Brussels. There are proposals afoot to stop using Strasbourg but as any member state can veto this proposal it’s hard to see why France would agree to give up their right to host the Parliament. Think of the loss of prestige and jobs! No French President is going to agree and it would be hard to blame them.
Listening to the presentation on how the Parliament works, it’s clear that it’s a very complex organisation as it has to represent the views of over 500 million people from 28 different countries. I did contact Gay to thank him and I told him he had a very difficult job as it has to be extremely difficult to get agreement on issues and get decisions made.
Another great insight was that in the recent EU elections, voters in a lot of countries used the EU elections to “punish” their governments and voted for far right or anti euro candidates. Thus, when the new parliament convenes, over one third of the elected MEPs actually oppose the EU and have campaigned to break it up. So the Parliament will have to deal with a large number of MEPs who don’t want to close it down. I think the EU is a wonderful institution and has greatly benefited our lives. Ireland joined in 1972 so I have seen those benefits for most of my life. People need to be more careful how they use their powerful vote, otherwise they will get results they did not intend to happen.
Once again thanks to Gay Mitchell, as he allowed me to achieve one of my objectives of the Gap Year and I now understand the EU parliament better. After the visit Nuala (who has little interest in politics) said I owed her an ice cream and desert in a cafe for putting her through the visit!! So I did honour my promise.