Bruce Arnold

Critic of Public Affairs, writing about art, theatre, music and politics

Inspired Ganley stands out a mile from mediocre rivals

In April, Francis Jacobs of the European Office in Dublin took me to task over an article about the European Parliament, to which we will be electing members tomorrow.

He made several points, the first being that "the European Parliament jointly decides on a majority of EU legislation and on most of the EU's annual budget, and has the absolute right to amend or even reject both". He went on to say that the parliament sets the EU legislative agenda, and "has far more power on secondary legislation than almost all national parliaments".

He said that it elected "both the president of the European Commission and his or her whole team of commissioners, and it also has the right to fire the entire commission".

He claimed it had the power to approve or veto future EU enlargement, as well as major international agreements, such as those on world trade and it had, he said, "a steadily growing role in helping to determine the future shape of the EU".

The facts are rather different. The European Parliament, unlike normal parliaments, cannot initiate any legislation. It does not jointly decide it or construct it, as the Dail does. Legislation comes from the unelected EU Commission.

The European Parliament does not have the primary role in deciding the EU budget. It cannot reduce the budget. It is the governments of the member states that perform that function. The best the parliament can come up with is to delay this work.

The European Parliament does not elect -- in any sensible meaning of that word -- either the commission president or the commissioners. It 'approves' the list of commissioners. They are decided by the EU prime ministers and presidents. On the one occasion that it 'fired' the whole lot of them -- for corruption -- they were replaced by the same process, but not by the European Parliament. Nor did the corruption end and the supposed 'transparency' became even more opaque.

This mess and confusion is what we will be electing Ireland's members to tomorrow. They will change nothing. In fact, as members of the new European Parliament they will work ever more co-operatively with the European Commission, fulfilling their natural instinct, which is to increase their supposed powers at the expense of the national parliaments. This is one of the small fig leaves they use to cover their otherwise naked bodies.

The parliament cannot amend a law but can propose amendments. It can veto a draft law altogether, but this requires an absolute majority of its members, virtually impossible to obtain.

It would mean creating a total consensus between the two big political blocs in the parliament, the European People's Party (the Christian Democrats) to which Fine Gael belongs, and the Socialists, to which Irish Labour belongs. This is not what parliaments are normally about.

In other words, the European Parliament does not do the job we think it is elected to do: legislate. In no sense is it the primary legislator for us all but a very secondary force in shaping the flood of European laws that overwhelm us. This situation will seriously worsen under the Lisbon Treaty. The parliament has no role by which it can exercise change or reform.

Is it any surprise, that in a parliament in which the two or more sides are forced to come together to agree on amendment or veto, the level of excitement is less than in a nursery school?

Should we be dismayed that the public political behaviour of parliamentarians is akin to that of geriatrics in a nursing home?

There is worse to come. The Irish members of the European Parliament are in league with the commission and with the Court of Justice in wanting more transfer of power to them since it gives them a marginally greater importance. An ever-closer European Union gives an artificial colouring to their largely ineffective role.

It is an unending process and amounts to no more than a policy of self-aggrandisement.

It stands in the way of reform. The comfortable equation sits static. There is no dynamic. That is why the European candidates have been so boring. They have nothing to say except that Europe will give us jobs, get us out of our mess and make life more tolerable. None of this is true.

It is a great pity that our rival newspaper, the 'Irish Times', has elected to be part of this bizarre European conspiracy. For the third time running, in its TNS MRBI opinion poll designed to find out what the public might do about Lisbon, it used the same quite dishonest question: "In light of the commitment to allow Ireland to retain an EU commissioner under the Lisbon Treaty, along with legal guarantees to deal with Irish concerns on neutrality, abortion and taxation will you vote 'Yes' or 'No' in the second referendum on the treaty later in the year?" It is based on a fallacious, misleading interpretation of the facts. As a question it makes it difficult not to say 'Yes' by removing all the things that a 'Yes' vote cannot do.

The important election tomorrow is to the European Parliament.

It will tell us about ourselves and I fear the message will be largely ridiculous. My own support is well known.

I believe that Declan Ganley has done something extraordinary across Europe. There were things wrong in his campaign. This, after all, is his first electoral contest and for the first time, as an Irish politician, he has chosen the broadest possible campaign area to fight in. He nevertheless remains an outstanding figure, with new and real ideas about the reform of Europe.

He makes an Irish electoral offering that is stunning. The majority of other candidates are noteworthy for their absolute mediocrity and lack of vision.

He is the only European Parliamentary candidate with realistic and welcome proposals, among them that EU Commissioners should be elected, that all European laws should have 75pc of member states behind them, as well as a majority of votes in the European Parliament.

He wants the members of the commission and council working groups to be published. He wants some powers relinquished by the EU and restored to the member states.

No other European candidate thinks like this except the doughty Patricia McKenna and Kathy Sinnott. They want reform.

The rest cannot see the need for it or if they do, remain silent. Thus they treat the electorate with disdain and dishonestly.