Sadly, the popular impression is that when MEPs are elected to the European Parliament they are on to a five-year fun ride. Truth offers a vastly different picture as the whole institutional EU scenario manifestly unfolds itself before the very eyes of those who win the people’s vote. From then on it would depend on them as to which way to navigate, successfully or not, the corridors of European power.
As an EU lawmaker, new MEPs will gradually establish for themselves the desired direction that best represents the interests and aspirations of the citizens living in the cities and regions of Europe that have elected them. In the process, MEPs would need to maintain a political lifeline with those very same people, interest groups and businesses as they wield the newly-gained privilege of, among many other things, being able to quiz the Commission and the Council of Ministers on their behalf.
At the same time, an MEP has to play an essential role when it comes to discussing and taking action on such big, global issues as migration, climate change, human rights and financial matters. This dual character of the role of an MEP needs getting used to, as distinguished from the role of the national MP who has, more or less, the traditional government v. Opposition setting to deal with.
Some may be tempted to think I am painting too rosy a picture of the ideal MEP. However, having worked in a European context for several years, I feel free to look at things without resorting to the use of tinted glasses. The MEP’s job, if carried out diligently and genuinely enough, can be a major source of both satisfaction and dedication to the benefit of those many citizens who accord him or her the privilege of representing them at Europe’s highest institution.
Split between work for their constituents back home and the work in the committees, political groups and, naturally, the plenary sessions, the daily life of MEPs can be quite heavy-going. This apart from the need for them to form part of EP delegations working on relations with non-EU countries across the globe.
It certainly means the successful EP candidate cannot afford to lack the technical know-how and the professional acumen to take an active part in the drafting process of EU legislation. I consider myself privileged to have accumulated substantial working experience within the EU system, at various levels including the Council and the European Commission. This was the impetus behind my decision to follow it up with a parliamentary role if the electorate so decides.
EU strictures apart, perhaps what is more important is the role of a Maltese MEP in Brussels. While it is defined by those very same responsibilities and obligations, there are some particular realities one has to consider.
I know what the EU needs of Malta, but, more important, I know what Malta needs of the EU
Malta’s six-voice presence inside the European Parliament is the smallest, but this does not necessarily mean it is the least influential. Suffice to say we have had, in the past, MEPs whose interventions – on issues of concern to European and Maltese citizens alike – made a difference.
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, for example, was the MEP who highlighted the issue of unfair mobile phone roaming charges, an issue then successfully followed through by Marlene Mizzi who has also been a stalwart in the defence of animal rights.
Alfred Sant has been, all along, the restraining force fighting the anti-Malta campaign in the European Parliament while also doing important legislative work in the area of taxation. Miriam Dalli got accolades for her no less splendid work on the issue of car emissions despite a not-so-subtle backlash from big car business interests and lobbies.
The EP election on Saturday offers Maltese citizens the opportunity to elect a group of six competent MEPs who are able to put aside their ideological differences to defend Malta’s interests in the face of 700 other MEPs with their own targets and strategies.
The national interest is far too important to continue to be the victim of selfish, treacherous attitudes on the part of those who are where they are thanks only to the citizens who trusted them with their votes.
Our democratic system happily and consistently offers time for retribution, when each and every serving MEP who seeks re-election finally has to stand and be counted, to be judged on his or her performance.
It is where the ideal MEP again comes in. He or she can be found from among those who do well in the people’s cross examination of their performance during the past five years, as well as from among the crop of new candidates who can provide the required alternative and, in the process, bring back the harmony that once existed among Malta’s MEP group.
My pledge is, in fact, to reinstate Maltese unity in Brussels on the basis of my own EU perspective. I know what the EU needs of Malta, but, more important, I know what Malta needs of the EU. It is my hope to be able to traverse this course on behalf of my fellow citizens. And that, certainly, is no fun ride.
Robert Micallef is a Labour Party candidate for the European Parliament.
This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece
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