Recently, marketing communications agency Edelman released its annual trust barometer. This indicated the level of trust in institutions such as governments and media across 28 countries. As the EU is not a country, it has been neglected in this report. This leaves the question of trust in regards to EU institutions unanswered. Therefore, it is a good reason to take a closer look at the EU and in specific our representatives at the European Parliament (EP).
In general, the trust in the European Union as such is low. According to the European trust barometer of 2016, only one third of European citizens trusts the EU. Furthermore, only 47% of voters feel that their voice counts in the EU, according to a recent study. This is an issue that immediately touches upon the European Parliament, as its main responsibility is to represent its voters. So, what are the statistics about the Members of European Parliament (MEPs)?
The numbers show that trust in our representatives on the European level is low – very low. Research from 2015 shows that 35% have an unfavourable impression of the EP and not even half of the voters trusts the EP according to the earlier mentioned recent study, which translated itself to the lowest ever turnout rate for the most recent EP elections in 2014: 42,61%.
The statistics show a low amount of trust in the EP. But the Parliament as such isn’t entirely to blame. The legislation that they propose and amend is based on very complex negotiations with very diverse interests – far more intense than on a national level. Moreover, this legislation must then be translated into national legislation and, more often than not, favourable legislation is claimed by national parliaments and unfavourable legislation is blamed on the EP by those same national parliaments.
Although some of the trust issues aren’t MEPs’ fault, one has to acknowledge that most trust issues are based on the performance of our MEPs. Many people wonder why two separate locations, in Brussels and Strasbourg, are necessary and feel that tax payers’ money finances unnecessary trips. This fuels scepticism. But apart from scepticism, there is also a general lack of trust because of the distance to MEPs. Where MPs in national – or even more in regional and local – parliaments have a responsibility to their constituency and actively engage in grassroots campaigns, MEPs remain virtually invisible to their constituency.
But the trust issues become even more entrenched when the performance in terms of output is taken into consideration. The attendance of MEPs in plenaries remains disputed, as is exemplified by President Juncker’s outburst last July when he visited parliament, but even when they attend their activity measured by output is very low. Just 14 out of 751 MEPs have created more than 10 reports in the past four years.
The way forward
What can we do to increase trust in our MEPs? First, it is paid as a full-time job. In 2015 MEPs received a monthly payment of 7957 euros and on top they received 4243 euros travel allowance and 4299 euros to cover office expenses. However, these MEPs often have other jobs next to being a representative of the people. Change this immediately to get a parliament that is full-time dedicated to fighting for European citizen’s rights. Second, for the sake of both productivity and cost efficiency: close the Strasbourg location. Even MEPs themselves called for this, already in 2013. Brussels is the political heart of Europe and it is the logical spot for the parliament to be.
The EP is of pivotal importance in a well-functioning EU. When trust is established, voter turnout will steadily begin to rise and the mandate of MEPs will become stronger. We need the parliament. But right now, we need it to step up its game to gain our trust.
Author: Koen Durlinger