The new political year starts this month. For many MEP’s it will be their last in the rue Wiertz.
Some Members of the European Parliament will be retiring; in response to the vox populi, others will be obliged to. Senior figures on the rue de la Loi are also facing into a year which promises to see the curtains closing on their careers. For many familiar figures in the European landscape, the exit door is already opening.
A great deal of hard (sometimes unpopular) work is done by legislators as the bell tolls for their political careers, lame duck statesmen are not necessarily unproductive. Nonetheless, it is fair to say that in the autumn of 2013 the greater risk is for procrastination and stagnation, with the eyes of so many on next spring’s political ball game. The prospect of an election focuses minds on careers but frequently also distracts from the issues that matter.
The up-coming parliamentary elections in Germany show how, at the last minute, hot issues kicked months ago into the long grass suddenly bounce back, while scandals lurking in politicians’ closets erupt in banner headlines as polling day approaches, shunting the bigger issues off the hustings. The election outcome and the shape of a new government can be decided by these unpleasant last-minute distractions. There is no reason why the same may not happen on the wider European stage.
With startlingly high levels of youth unemployment stubbornly persisting in so many EU member states, the issue of the young, their access to and place in the labour market cannot be overlooked by any prospective MEP. The last EU Council of the Irish presidency acknowledged this fact, while we at COMECE, in co-operation with partners in youth work and ministry, are nailing our pro-youth employment colours to the mast with a conference at the European Parliament on 4 September.
Even if Edward Snowdon has blown the whistle on the seamy underbelly of US-manipulated international security arrangements and made the trans-Atlantic alliance a little exposed, it remains a fact that Europe’s place in the wider world and its economic prospects over the term of the next parliament will be shaped by the free-trade area discussions between Brussels and Washington. The terms and impact of this future free-trade area deserve to be an election issue.
Today’s Europe is riven with tension: nation states are angry with one another, suspicious of one another, while casting themselves as victim and the other as bogeyman. A new understanding of solidarity (an idea central to the Catholic Church’s social doctrine) must emerge.
Nine months from polling day, the real risk is that rising populism (UKIP, Beppe Grillo & Co.) will shape the debate, high levels of absenteeism will dilute if not discredit the democratic credibility of the outcome and that everything but the real issues the EU needs to tackle will dominate the pre-election rhetoric. Europe Infos, even at the risk of running against the tide, pledges itself to raising the issues which ought to matter to the citizens who care about Europe and its future.
Fr Patrick Daly