November-December 2014 … The Global Online Magazine of Arts, Information & Entertainment … Volume 10, Number 6
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REPORT: European Parliament 2014

Hemicycle

The Hemicycle meeting hall for Parliament at headquarters in Strasbourg.

The Final Session

of the European Parliament

Before Elections

News & Photos from the Chamber
by Miklós Horváth

Between 14 and 17 April 2014 the European Parliament (EP) held its last plenary session before May’s European elections. The final parliamentary session of the 7th legislature opened with a minute’s silence marking the 20th anniversary of Rwanda’s genocide and remembering the victims who were murdered in the African country. At the very beginning of the session Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) stressed their dissatisfaction with Russia’s occupation of the Crimea. They restated that Russia’s recent annexation of the territory was against its international commitments as well as international law.

In their arguments, politicians referred to the possible breach of the 1994 Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances by the Russian Federation as the document had been created to preserve the territorial integrity and political independence of certain countries of the Balkans, including Ukraine, against threats, and was originally signed by the USA, the UK, as well as Russia. Concerning Crimea, EP President Martin Schulz urged Russia to withdraw its troops from Ukraine and make efforts to safeguard peace in the region. Schulz evoked many resolutions which were voted by the EP in the last few months to support Ukraine in preserving its sovereignty and territorial integrity. He mentioned an EU trade agreement aiming to boost Ukraine’s economic prosperity as well as several financial aid programs. He also voiced his satisfaction with the Ukraine government’s efforts to restore stability and expressed his hope that Ukraine’s upcoming national elections would be free and fair.

On the third day of the plenary session MEPs from different political groups held a debate on Russia’s pressure on the EU’s Eastern Partnership countries and in particular the destabilization of Eastern Ukraine following the Crimean crisis. They discussed their opinions on the situation at hand and those economic sanctions they believed should be taken against Russia to slow down its endeavors to grab territories in Ukraine – the endeavor that might stem from Russia’s great power identity/hegemony and its national interests, which are all applied in conducting its foreign policy objectives in this particular geopolitical space, the so-called “near abroad”. Understanding the situation from the Russian perspective, what Russia does today is sending out a message to the West with regard to what it considers its own sphere of influence as a great power (see: Ria Laenen’s “Russia’s Vital and Exclusive National Interests in the Near Abroad”). While, on the other hand, European leaders continuously express their dissatisfaction, as they would be rather pleased to see Ukraine closer to the EU than to the Russian Federation, being convinced that European values should spread and prevail in the Eastern part of Europe, as well.

Rights & Values

After Stefan Füle’s, Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy, opening speech MEPs had one to two minutes to share their opinions on the crisis in the chamber. Some paid particular attention to European values and minority rights in Ukraine while others were discussing Russia’s escalations to use of force in the past recalling the Georgian-Russian conflict in South Ossetia and Abkhazia among many other incidents. As the most proper solution to the Ukraine crisis was not found during the debate, many MEPs expressed their hope that the Geneva meeting of top diplomats on Ukraine, organized in Switzerland right after the Strasbourg plenary sitting, was able to provide better guidelines for an agreement to ease the tensions between the West and Russia.

In the EP chamber, politicians clearly demonstrated their commitments to assist Ukraine with peaceful conflict resolution and to defend human rights, the rule of law and democratic values within its territory. By doing this they undoubtedly reaffirmed the EU’s role as a normative power and a mediator in world politics. This is, of course, very necessary in a time when Europe’s legitimacy of setting regulatory standards as well as the notion of the EU as a value-based community are questioned by the resurgence of manifestations of anti-semitism, xenophobia, discrimination, racism or Euroscepticism as consequences of the economic crisis (and as recently discussed by the Secretary General of the Council of Europe in a detailed report).

Euro Par V10N3

Miklos Horvath reports on the European Parliament's 2014 session as a representative from Ragazine.CC.

European Parliament Headquarters, Strasbourg
European Parliament Headquarters, Strasbourg
Louise Weiss Building
Louise Weiss Building
Louise Weiss Building
Louise Weiss Building
Louise Weiss Building
Louise Weiss Building
Louise Weiss Building
Louise Weiss Building
Louise Weiss Building
Louise Weiss Building
Louise Weiss Building
Louise Weiss Building
Louise Weiss Building
Louise Weiss Building
Louise Weiss Building
Louise Weiss Building

Banking & Finance

The second major topic for discussion at the EP was the setting up of new regulations in the banking sector as well as the enhancement of a banking union. The parliament adopted three measures. Two were dealing with the restructuring of troubled banks requiring financial institutions to have special plans for the worst and unexpected scenarios, while the third was implemented to ensure that banks, not the taxpayers, guaranteed deposits under €100,000 in an event of the risk of failure. The third regulation, namely the deposit guarantee scheme was already in place in some way but was updated to further protect depositors and taxpayers. These measures along with other full-fledged regulations might prepare the EU to strengthen and complement the existing pillars (i.e. the single bank supervision system) of a genuine banking union in the near future.

Lessons of War

The third major issue for debate was the First World War, the lessons to be learned from the devastation and the future of Europe. The debate was opened by EP President Martin Schulz, Evangelos Venizelos, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Greece speaking on behalf of the Council of the European Union (as Greece is currently holding the Presidency of the Council of the European Union up until July 2014) and the President of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso. After their speeches, the chairs of the major political groups in the European Parliament discussed what Europe learned or should have learned from WWI.

Many of them expressed that the member states of the EU should continue their co-operation in the future to maintain peace and competitiveness, and to proceed towards a higher level of integration. They called for the curbing of nationalism, creating stronger integration, more common policies and support for the community-based interest – as only a closely integrated community could assume and exercise serious power on the international stage in the 21st century. Contrary to these aspirations, MEPs like Nigel Farage (co-chair of EFD) and Daniël van der Stoep (NI) stressed their convictions that citizens would need stronger nation states rather than a powerful European Union.

Human Rights, Environment

During the plenary, the EP passed three resolutions concerning human rights violations in North Korea, Pakistan and Syria to support the UN to set up special structures for investigation. It decided that certain harmful psychoactive substances should be withdrawn from the EU market to protect the safety of citizens, particularly young people. MEPs also concluded a reform to the fisheries policy, introduced a structural change to the EU aid system to be delivered faster and effectively to disaster-stricken EU or EU candidate countries, adopted measures to stop the spread of invasive alien species and draft rules to reduce the use of the most polluting plastic bags in the community. Other regulations and draft laws concerning food and product safety, investment, environment protection, EU budget, economic development and the freedom of movement were also adopted.

The final parliamentary session was running with a packed agenda as MEPs decided on a considerably large amount of issues directly influencing the everyday life of EU citizens. Even though the EP was very active in adopting regulations in the last 5 years, this EU institution still suffers from a serious democratic deficit due to the fact that citizens are not well-informed about the content of the measures passed in the chamber on a monthly basis. The small amount of information and education provided to citizens leads to the declining of their interest in EU affairs and a low-turnout for EP elections. We might experience this again in May when European elections will take place. The next plenary sitting will be held in July in Strasbourg soon after the members of the new European Parliament have been directly elected by the citizens of the 28 member states of the EU.

From now on, the new parliament will have less MEPs in accordance with the Treaty of Lisbon than it had in the previous years. Considering the power of the EP as one of the EU’s main law-making institutions, along with the Council of the European Union, deciding over the very future of European integration; and the fact that after the 2014 EP elections the President of the European Commission will most probably be coming from the largest European political group enjoying the strongest support of citizens, two things are quite disappointing: one is the decline in participation of EU citizens in European elections [voter turnout decreased from 62% in 1979 (EU9) during the first direct elections to the EP to a record-low of 43% in 2009 (EU27) in the most recent European elections] explaining why EP elections are often characterized as second-order elections subordinate to national elections (the so-called first-order elections). The other alarming trend is the growing support of citizens for Eurosceptic parties.

About the author:

Miklós Horváth is a Master’s student at the University of Leuven (KU Leuven). He was also educated at ELTE Budapest, Tartu, Maastricht and Leiden University. He completed internships at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Hungary, Portage Rehabilitation Centre in Canada and at the European Parliament’s Directorate General for Communication. He published articles in more than six print journals ranging from literature to politics. His previous contributions to Ragazine.CC include:
http://old.ragazine.cc/2011/06/horvathart-july-2011/
http://old.ragazine.cc/2011/07/elmgreen-dragset-july-2011/
http://old.ragazine.cc/2012/02/murray-gaylard/

Recommended Sources

Newsletter – 14-17 April 2014 – Strasbourg plenary session
http://bit.ly/1rkQ4vY

Joint statement, Geneva meeting on the situation in Ukraine:
http://eeas.europa.eu/statements/docs/2014/140417_01_en.pdf

Report by the Secretary General of the Council of Europe (CoE) Thorbjørn Jagland: “Europe in biggest human rights crisis since Cold War”
http://bit.ly/1eD6XRX

Russian pressure on Eastern Partnership countries and in particular the destabilization of Eastern Ukraine, EPTV in full with English translation
http://bit.ly/1lCctTQ

100 years on from the First World War: lessons to learn and future of Europe (debate), EPTV in full with English translation
http://bit.ly/QDxnIr

Never again? Debate to mark WW1 centenary
http://bit.ly/1lgddxN

European Parliament elections May 2014
http://www.elections2014.eu/en

Insecurity, austerity and growing extremism in the EU
http://bit.ly/QwjU5g

The 2009 Elections to the European Parliament Country Reports
http://bit.ly/1idrGg6

Eurobarometer Report: Post-electoral survey 2009
http://bit.ly/QwjYCc

Ria, Laenen (2012). Russia’s Vital and Exclusive National Interests in the Near Abroad, In. Maria Raquel, Freire and Roger E, Kanet (2012). Russia and its Near Neighbors. Palgrave.
http://www.palgrave.com/PDFs/9780230390171.pdf

Eurobarometer 76: 2011: Level of Information on European Matters: A clear Majority of Respondents still believe that they are ill-informed about European matters
http://bit.ly/1iIjvXJ

Information about the European Parliament headquarters building in Strasbourg:
http://bit.ly/1lDhJLc

CaptureWikipedia diagram, click to enlarge.