Monday, 19 July 2010

Diane Dodds MEP: One Year On

[Part of the series on Northern Irish MEPs' first year in the 7th European Parliament]

Diane Dodds (NI) (DUP). Member of: the Agriculture Committee and the Delegation for Relations with Israel (Substitute on: the Fisheries Committee and the Delegation for Relations with Australia and New Zealand).

Statistics (VoteWatch Profile):
Attendance in plenary: 87.27%
Loyalty to Europarty: N/A
Loyalty to national majority: 46.15%
Speeches: 54 (In plenary, 49 [via VoteWatch, which wasn’t updated as recently])
Parliamentary Questions: 5
Motions for resolutions: 0
Written declarations: 0
Reports Amended: 5 (3 on the Future of the CAP after 2013 and 2 on the Draft Report on the Green Paper on the Reform of the CFP)
Drafted Reports: 0
Opinions: 0


Dodds’ speeches mostly refer to agriculture. According to these speeches, she supports a localist approach (speech on the amendment to regulations on agriculture in the outermost regions of the Union, and supporting local rather than EU geographical indicators when it comes to labelling ). She also raised the issue of the penalties against Northern Irish farmers due to allegations of fraudulent claims with Commission President Barroso during the Question Hour, and Barroso defended the procedure as objective, highlighting that the member state has space to present its case (though the matter is really one of the regional Northern Irish government). When it comes to the Common Fisheries Policy, she made a speech in favour of its regionalisation as set out in the Green Paper on CFP reform – however her ideal would be for the scrapping of the CFP and a return to member state control. From her speech on Icelandic accession to the Union, however, she seems to feel that Icelandic fishery policies on mackerel are unsustainable and that letting Iceland into the EU would damage UK fisheries; she opposes Icelandic entry on the basis of fisheries and the Icesave crisis.

Diane Dodds has also made speeches on the Israel/Palestine conflict and on terrorism in NI. She seems very supportive of security services, technology and intelligence: see here for her speech on body scanners at airports. She also voted for the EU-US SWIFT agreement (on the sharing of bank transfer info for terrorist investigations).

The 5 Parliamentary questions generally follow the same trend as the speeches. (4 of them were submitted on the 2nd July 2010, with the other one submitted back in December 2009, judging by the European Parliament website). Topics include: the EU-Libya cooperation agreement negotiations, the volatile diary market, the right to fish, and discrimination against producers and processors. Apart from the 2 questions asking for an update on how negotiations with Libya are going, the other questions concern work and discrimination of products; two of these ask for clarification on if/when discrimination is allowed (the producers and diary questions – though the questions are short and don’t provide a background or context so it’s unclear exactly what circumstances Dodds is asking questions about).

Only one question refers to a specific law (rather than just asking what the law is). This question asks whether restrictions on fishing conflict with the rights to find an occupation and engage in work in the Fundamental Charter of Rights.

In general the main focus of Dodds’ speeches are agriculture, fisheries and security/terrorism, which fits in with the rural character of Northern Ireland and the DUP’s general stance on security issues. If you want to check out her speeches and stances in more detail, you can find them here. You can check her voting record here.


Analysis:

Diane Dodds’ national party, the Democratic Unionist Party, isn’t aligned with any of the Europarty/political groupings in the European Parliament. Groups get certain resources and being part of a political group increases your chances of forming alliances and getting high profile roles such as rapporteur, etc. So in some ways the role of an independent MEP can’t be compared easily to that of a party MEP: party MEPs gain profile, political advantage and political leverage by influencing their party’s position and working to get more influential posts; while independents may be more constituency focused and focus on a wider range of issues based on their constituents’ interests. Party MEPs may be more specialised and become a party’s spokesperson in a policy area (and so depend on other party MEPs to defend their common interests in other policy areas and ask questions/table amendments there), while an independent might not have the time or resources to be experts on everything, but have the time (and freedom from the party line) to work on constituency concerns more directly.

In my opinion, the role of an independent MEP is to ask questions, make speeches, and table amendments on a wide range of issues that matter to the constituency – and can’t be blamed necessarily for the lack of report drafting, etc. Dodds has made a lot of speeches in the key areas of interest for the constituency, but there are few questions and amendments, considering that there is no Europarty work and my “model” of an independent MEP. Do the questions and amendments serve her constituents well? I doubt it. Questions are few and vague, and I doubt that they’ll get much more than a copy-and-paste reply of the general law in that area. Questions would need to be direct and specific to tease out a good reply; otherwise it seems as if she is just asking the Commission’s opinion to a question a constituent might have asked so she can pass the answer on. The statistics don’t show or measure other constituency work, however, so there could be other areas of local work that just aren’t highlighted by this.


How you judge Diane Dodds’ performance as an MEP may depend on how you view the role – as one of making speeches on matters important to the constituency, constituency work, asking questions or submitting amendments, and what combination you think is important. Apart from the question of ideology is also the question of party alignment: do you think an independent or a party-aligned MEP would be better? The European Parliament has gained new powers after the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty and is now equal to the Council (member states) in nearly all areas. Though the EP is no longer the talking shop it once was, Dodds seems to treat it as if nothing’s changed.


[For analysis on the other Northern Ireland MEPs and an overall analysis: link]

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