Brighton journalist Ceirney Eddie visited the European Parliament in Strasbourg as MEPs and candidates prepare for the elections on Thursday 22 May. Here is his report.
The European Union is complex and controversial. After visiting a European Parliament plenary session (full sitting) in Strasbourg earlier this year, I became even more convinced that this was the case.
I got the impression that despite our large UK representation, with 73 MEPs in the parliament, Britain is politically and geographically isolated from other EU nations.
Very few British journalists were covering European affairs at the parliamentary press conferences first-hand.
This was surprising, considering the important discussions on Ukraine and air passenger rights.
Perhaps Britain’s supposed disaffection with Europe results in less coverage of European politics.
If so, it should not prevent journalists reporting on what ultimately influences our social structure.
In addition, European elections are just around the corner and all coverage possible is needed to boost the engagement of UK citizens.
During my visit I saw a clear divide between the residents of Strasbourg and the so-called “travelling circus” of politicians from Brussels to the city every month.
Previous attempts by a majority in the parliament to stop the Strasbourg sessions, which cost the taxpayer £150 million a year and create 20,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions, were rejected by France and challenged in the EU’s Court of Justice in 2011.
The primary work done at Strasbourg’s plenary sessions is MEPs voting to adopt or reject amendments to European legislation.
These range from imports of Atlantic big-eye tuna to ratifying the Arms Trade Treaty.
The voting method was not always clear cut, unlike in most democratic parliaments. The person chairing the session asks every MEP to raise their hands and their assistants calculate the support for the amendment. If the vote is close, each MEP votes electronically.
The first method was not always accurate during the session, with the wrong verdict announced on occasions, which makes me wonder why they don’t use the digital voting method all the time.
The wealth of linguistic diversity in one building was the most memorable experience in the parliament.
Although the phenomenally fluent translators help make sense of discussions in the vicinity, communication between MEPs outside this formal setting must be challenging.
We often assume that English is so widely spoken that we can converse in our mother tongue anywhere we go. This is not the case, as German is the most common EU language.
A European Commission survey published found that only 13 per cent of EU citizens spoke English as their native language. It highlights a language barrier for MEPs who do not have multilingual abilities when negotiating.
This could be an important factor in talks between countries sharing the same language making decisions behind other nation’s backs.
The language differences reduce the pace and flow of discussions and votes in the parliament, which could have a knock-on effect with the time it takes to pass legislation.
The tendency for translators to inaccurately convey emphasis on MEPs’ important points undermines politicians’ genuine passion during debate.
I watched a session where Luxembourg MEP, Georges Bach, outlined his report on air passenger rights to a group of journalists from all over Europe.
The next day, the whole parliament voted overwhelmingly in favour of his recommendations on improving the current law on compensation for delayed air passengers.
But it will be voted on again by the new parliament after May and will be put in place from November, the rapporteur convinced us.
However bureaucratic the European Parliament continues to be, one thing seems clear – turnout will remain low as eligible voters are not engaged.
But, perhaps, the institution wants to keep it that way.