Restoring trust and confidence in the European Parliament
For the first time in a decade it looks like there may be a genuine election for the Presidency of the European Parliament. Instead of the usual backroom deal it seems that a number of candidates will put their names forward and, after a robust debate, MEPs will get to decide themselves who has the best ambition, character and priorities to take this parliament forward in a time when we must all pull together and look to the future.
I got into politics to bring about positive change - particularly for people with disabilities. I chose the European Parliament because it is the venue where I could do the most good for the largest possible number of people. Day-in, day-out I see the hard work that other MEPs are putting in to make their regions, countries and the Continent a better place to live, work and travel.
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Yet our voters don’t often see this. The day-to-day work is drowned out because the European Parliament has lost the trust and confidence of too many people.
I am standing because I want to restore that trust and bring this parliament back closer to the people it represents.
The best way to achieve this goal is to make sure that every voice matters. From left to right, north to south, big to small, each MEP represents electors who want to be heard, and their representatives must all get a say in our Continent’s future.
The outgoing President Martin Schulz achieved a great deal for the institution. You don’t have to be his biggest fan to acknowledge that the parliament stands much taller today than when Mr Schulz took office in 2012.
Yet the extra power of our parliament has not been dispersed into the hands of all 751 MEPs who represent the diversity of Europe. Instead, it has been centralised into the hands of only five men from just four countries who gather in a closed room and decide the fate of Europe, away from any public scrutiny.
Ending 'G5' backroom deals
The so-called ‘G5’ of Juncker and Timmermans from the commission, meeting with Schulz, Weber and Pittella from the parliament, was intended to hold together the ‘Grand Coalition’ that guarantees a working majority can automatically be found by just these five men deciding every major issue.
However, the very notion that all important decisions are made in this manner risks feeding the arguments against the EU: namely that it is elitist, remote and not respectful of the pluralism and diversity of our Continent.
As a consequence of this power play, the causes that other politicians entered politics to promote have to take a back seat. They fight for air time against the demigods who make news simply by turning up to a hotel once every few weeks, and then leaking or briefing out the discussions.
When we think back to the EU’s 'founding fathers', they had a vision, they had a determination to see the EU succeed to the benefit of citizens across Europe.
Can we honestly say that we see that today? Or do we see our leaders desperately trying to cobble together the lowest common denominator with little expertise or understanding about the important issues?
European citizens deserve better than this, and the mandates that voters give to MEPs deserve more respect.
Enabling all 751 MEPs
This is why I’m running - to make the parliament a place of open, transparent debate once again. A place where the President seeks to give all Members’ noble causes a megaphone.
Yes, electing a deaf woman will send out a strong signal about equality and opportunity to others. But I hope that we can also send a stronger signal that we want the European Parliament to reform and change so that it can better engage with voters and reflect their concerns.
This is not only imperative for the future of the European Parliament, but to the future of the whole European Union. The President cannot single-handedly change the future of the EU, but she can start by showing the people that who they elect matters, and that their representatives have an institution and a President that will listen to them. Ironically, I might be deaf but I believe one of my greatest strengths is that I'm a very good listener!
The G5 backroom dealing cannot be broken apart by a president from the groups that act as its main protagonists. We can go on as we have been, to dark consequences, or we can use the opportunity of this election to choose someone who wants to see the parliament become a place of open democratic debate again.
A parliament that succeeds not for the sake of a political project, but because it enables its 751 MEPs to deliver real results that restore the faith of those people who look to us to deliver them a better quality of life.
Helga Stevens is a Belgian member of the ECR group in the European Parliament.