- I am elections-tired
The number of elections in the Netherlands is starting to be ridiculous. I’m good with numbers (otherwise I wouldn’t be doing a Ph.D. in Earth Sciences) but I actually start losing track of the number of times I voted in the last few years. See for yourself – there are the national parliament elections, which are normally held every 4 years, but in recent times are held biannually due to unstable governments falling quite regularly. Then there are the municipal elections, which were held just two months ago. So far, so good? This is where things get complicated. There are also the provincial parliament elections of the regional government. These parliaments elect the provincial government and the Senate, the upper house of the Dutch parliament. Feeling lost? Wait, there’s more – there are also the Water Board elections – the guys that manage the dikes and polders get elected, too. Actually, I forgot to mention that in the big cities (like Rotterdam, where I live) during the municipal elections also the neighbourhood committees were elected, but these are rather unimportant. By the time the European elections are up, I just don’t give a damn anymore.
- I don’t get it
What was I supposed to vote for? The European parliament? And they do what exactly? Theoretically, I know they are rather important and take hundreds of decisions that effect my daily life. Like the tough decision to call carrot a fruit for the purposes of making jam. But wait – that was not a decision by the European parliament at all! It was a Directive of the Council of the European Union, who (and I quote):
Having regard to the Treaty establishing the European Community, and in particular Article 37 thereof,
Having regard to the proposal from the Commission,
Having regard to the opinion of the European Parliament,
Having regard to the opinion of the Economic and Social Committee,
BLA BLA BLA
Have decided that:
– for the purposes of this Directive, tomatoes, the edible parts of rhubarb stalks, carrots, sweet potatoes, cucumbers, pumpkins, melons and water-melons are considered to be fruit[…]
Must be a tough job indeed, having regard of all those people. Now who were they exactly? Don’t know? Well, neither do I. And I know even less about how they get their positions and what is exactly the power balance between the Parliament, the Commission and the Economic and Social Committee. And why is it that they need all those meetings of heads of state, finance and foreign ministers, if they have all these committees working for them?
- Parkinson’s law
To anyone familiar with Parkinson’s law it is obvious that a parliament that has 751 members and three places of work (Brussels, Strasbourg and Luxembourg) just can’t function. In fact, a body of this size would probably be counterproductive to the extreme, has it not been slowed down by its own weight. So besides eating a lot of taxpayers money (simultaneously translating debates between 24 languages costs around €150,000 per day), it probably does nothing. Yes, it makes decisions, but by the time they finish debating, the problem has either solved itself or became otherwise irrelevant, so the whole circus can start all over.
And that’s why I didn’t vote for the European parliament. Of course, I do have suggestions for improvement. In fact, they are pretty obvious.
- The number of levels of government must be cut
I can only speak of the Netherlands, but here the provincial parliament, the Upper House and the Water Boards can all be deleted without anyone noticing. Except the people working there, but the ones doing useful work can be redistributed among the remaining governments and the useless ones are clearly a burden and can be sent to retirement. Most of them are already retired (more than two thirds of the Upper House members, for example) so its not an issue.
- The EU must become less complicated and much, much more transparent
The successes of the anti-EU parties should be a wake-up call for all. The majority of the Europeans support the EU, think it is a good thing and see the benefits of it. But they can’t see the forest through the trees. If a high-educated person like myself doesn’t get how and why the EU takes its decision (read – spends my money), what about those with less academic qualifications? The EU and its various governing bodies need to get mature, define their objectives, divide responsibilities and keep out of touchy subjects until they prove to be capable and trust-able to handle them.
- The European parliament needs to get tough on itself
And I mean real tough – cutting drastically the number of members and choosing a single location. Limiting the number of official languages might be a good starting point. If even the UN can stick to just six official and two (just 2!) working languages, the EU has no excuses there.
- The European parliament may have to split in two to increase its credibility
I know it sounds contradictory, but I think the Americans actually got this one right – in what is known as the Connecticut Compromise, the states send two types of representatives – a proportional Congress (like the EU parliament is) and an egalitarian Senate, where each state has two members. I am not saying the EU should copy this model but I do think that a compromise in such style can contribute to the balance of power between the members, in the long term reducing the frictions and the need for elaborate discussion between governments.
I remain hopeful that Sunday’s dramatic result will lead to dramatic changes in the way the EU is run. But unfortunately, I don’t see any of this happening any time soon. In 5 years, I will reconsider voting. I will have plenty of opportunities to vote in between, so I’ll keep practising colouring my ballot.