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World, Asian Opinions

Jonathan Eyal
Wednesday, May 14, 2014

World, Asian Opinions

Is Europe's Parliament losing its relevance?

The Straits Times | Jonathan Eyal | Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Over half a century ago, the bosses of Europe's state-owned media networks launched the Eurovision Song Contest, a yearly event designed to bring the continent together by providing some sorely needed cheer to nations emerging from the rubble of World War II.

Eurovision remains a huge success, one of the world's longest-running TV shows.

But it has long departed from its original purpose, and is now merely an engaging mix of high camp and kitsch in which trapeze artists compete for attention with transsexuals and strobe lighting. The last competition which ended yesterday included a bearded woman representing Austria.

And something similar may soon be happening to another grand European project: that of the European Parliament.

For although in just over one week the half a billion residents of the European Union will be called upon to pick their continentwide lawmakers in what is the world's second-largest ballot after India's, most Europeans will ignore the event altogether.

And many of those who do turn out will vote for a mixture of fascists and communists.

The European Parliament risks becoming a fringe show similar to that of Eurovision, but with far worse consequences for the political stability of the continent.

Little voter interest

At first sight, Europe's indifference to its Parliament seems surprising.

For the biggest gripe which the continent's citizens have about the institutions of the European Union is the fact that these structures remain largely unelected and undemocratic elite constructs imposed from above.

The European Parliament (EP) was meant to plug this democratic deficit: it is the only Europewide institution directly elected by the people.

And although the EP started its life as a mere debating chamber of little consequence, this has now changed.

Over the past five years, the outgoing batch of MEPs, as the Parliament's members are called, have approved more than 400 Europewide laws on such critical matters as trade or banking regulation.

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