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Nosemonkey's EUtopia

In search of a European identity

How to work out who to vote (and not vote) for in the 2014 European Parliament elections – Part 1

No matter your political persuasion, this is not as easy a decision as you may think. I supposedly know my stuff on this, and I haven’t decided yet.

First things first – what are we voting for?

To answer this question, we need to ask how does the European Parliament work – because surely you want your vote to have an impact, or you’d join the vast majority of people who simply don’t bother turning out on European election days? And how can you ensure it is going to have the impact you want if you don’t know a few basics about the potential influence that an MEP can have?

So, you probably all know that the EP can’t initiate legislation. Your local MEP will not be able to introduce a bill to create a new law or to call for an existing one to be repealed.

But this doesn’t mean that MEPs are powerless, because the EP’s primary purpose is to scrutinise, amend and reject legislation that has been initiated elsewhere. The EP is not meant to be a power-hungry maniac, issuing new laws to look busy – it’s meant to be a place of considered analysis and quality control.

What what does this mean?

So, if you don’t like meddling Eurocrats issuing edicts and red tape, it’s not enough to vote for someone who thinks the same way – you also need to make sure you’re voting for someone who’s going to get actively involved in stopping/amending them, and raising support to get more MEPs banding together in support of the cause.

Of course, voting on legislation isn’t the only way to have influence here – there are plenty of behind the scenes factors too, from committee work to general lobbying of the Commission, Council and member states to nudge legislation in the right direction before it even reaches the European Parliament. You could even argue that getting coverage in the national press about particular pieces of legislation is an important part of this, as a public uproar over a proposed EU law can put pressure on the EU to think again.

But when it comes to the crunch, if an MEP doesn’t vote when a vote is being held, all the behind the scenes stuff and public PR work is likely to come to nothing.

How do I find out if and how MEPs have voted?

You can check the voting records of existing MEPs via VoteWatch Europe, which has a handy section showing you how often your MEP turns up to vote, as well as which way they swing.

Here we can see that the UK’s most active MEP is Conservative Charles Tannock, who’s participated in 96% of all EP votes, has made an astonishing 427 motions for resolutions (the most of any MEP Europe-wide), made 586 speeches before parliament, amended 59 reports (vital work in shaping EU policy), and tabled 589 parliamentary questions (the 19th most active MEP Europe-wide in this area). He’s also a member of the Foreign Affairs and Human Rights committees, helping shape opinion and policy in those areas, and is also a subsitute on the Security and Defence Committee.

Round of applause for Charles Tannock, whether you agree with his views or not! (He’s on Twitter here.)

Let’s take a look at the top 10 performers (by vote attendance) of the UK’s 73 MEPs:

    2/73 – 95% attendance – Andrew Brons, BNP / British Democratic Party (defected), Yorkshire and the Humber
    3/73 – 95% attendance – Phil Bennion, Lib Dem, West Midlands
    4/73 – 94% attendance – Marta Andreasen, UKIP / Conservative (defected), South East England
    7/73 – 94% attendance – Fiona Hall, Lib Dem, North East England
    8/73 – 94% attendance – Brian Simpson, Labour, North West England
    9/73 – 94% attendance – Andrew Duff, Lib Dem, East of England

You don’t have to be a supporter of their parties to see that these are dedicated, highly active politicians, and that anyone who voted for them should feel well pleased with the result.

By contrast, the UK’s least active MEP is UKIP’s controversial comedy caricature, Godfrey Bloom, who’s only bothered to turn up to 29% of votes, table 34 questions, make 56 speeches (surprising for a man who likes the sound of his own voice so much), and amend 6 reports. So much for defending British interests…

Bottom 10 UK MEPs by vote attendance:

    64/73 – 66% attendance – James Elles, Conservative, South East England
    66/73 – 64% attendance – Syed Kamall, Conservative, London
    68/73 – 62% attendance – Timothy Kirkhope, Conservative, Yorkshire and the Humber
    69/73 – 61% attendance – Robert Sturdy, Conservative, East of England
    70/73 – 52% attendance – Trevor Colman, UKIP, South West England
    71/73 – 44% attendance – Nigel Farage, UKIP, South East England
    72/73 – 42% attendance – Paul Nuttall, UKIP, North West England
    73/73 – 29% attendance – Godfrey Bloom, UKIP, Yorkshire and the Humber

A strong showing from UKIP and the Conservatives there. So if you happen to be of a eurosceptic bent, you may want to consider – are these people, coming as they do from two of the UK’s more eurosceptic parties – really doing the best to represent your (and the country’s) best interests?

For those interested, the least active MEPs in other parties:

Note: the latter has the excuse of being Vice-President of the EP, and so is unable to vote all the time as a result of these duties (which arguably considerably increase his influence). The next lowest-attending Lib Dem MEP is Catherine Bearder (South East England), on a respectable 85% attendance.

In summary

So, step one: check which constituency you’re in, and who your current MEPs are – these are multi-member constituencies, so you will have more than one MEP. And no, I can’t name all of the ones for my constituency either.

Step two: Check their vote attendance and activity. Are there any that don’t deserve your vote because they can’t be bothered to vote themselves?

Coming up later in the series:

Part 2: How to work out which policy issues actually matter in European Parliament elections, and so which party is the best fit for your worldview.

Part 3: How to understand how European Parliament political groups will affect the effectiveness of your chosen party/candidate once they’re elected.

Part 4: How to work out how to reward deserving MEPs / candidates and how to cast an effective protest or tactical vote (including via the insanity of the UK’s insane EP electoral system).

(If I can dig out a reliable list of current MEP expenses claims, I’ll also have a post on current MEPs by value for money…)

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