An MEP asks why her job has become so unfashionableby Neena Gill / February 20, 2000 / Leave a comment
This should be the hour of the European parliament. Last year it booted out the European commission and increased its power of scrutiny over European legislation. Yet suddenly nobody wants to be an MEP. Alan Donnelly, leader of the Labour group in Brussels, has just resigned. And when Pauline Green resigned as a London MEP, the next two down on Labour’s London list turned down the chance to replace her.
I was elected an MEP in June and I know already that it is not a glamorous calling. Donnelly gave as his reason for resigning the impossible amount of travel. The shuffling between three offices (in Brussels, Strasbourg and my West Midlands base covering 59 Westminster constituencies) is a pain; family-friendly it is not. Peripatetic courts might have been the way for monarchs to meet their nobles in the middle ages; they do not belong in the 21st century.
But like most things, the European parliament is what you make of it. Some of the new Tory MEPs seem to have little idea how the place works. They interrupt debates with silly points of order or complain that they have not been given information which is in the papers on their desks. Perhaps I have had beginners’ luck (a business background helps too), but if my brief experience is anything to go by it seems easier to make a difference in Brussels than at Westminster.
My maiden speech at a plenary session of the whole parliament was not, however, a success. I found myself intervening to ask Neil Kinnock why France had been let off with such a small fine for its misallocation of World Cup tickets. It got off to a bad start when a “Mr Gill” was called to speak, and I never quite recovered.
My second intervention was more effective. As a member of the parliament’s budget committee, I receive a huge amount of paperwork. Last September, trawling through the fine print of the budget for 2000, my researcher noticed that the commission was planning to cut by 50m euros the EU subsidy to school milk. This seemed a large cut which would add to the problems faced by farmers in my constituency. So I wrote letters to farming and milk organisations, raised the issue at the budget committee, and eventually spoke at a plenary session about the milk cut. At first the commission was dismissive,…