Monday, 19 July 2010

Northern Ireland's MEPs: One Year On

The 7th European Parliament is a year into its first term since the June 2009 elections, so I’ve decided to take a look at the performance of the 3 Northern Ireland MEPs in the European Parliament over the last year. To do this I’ve looked over the questions and speeches of the MEPs from their plenary adventures on the European Parliament website, and the statistics of their voting patterns and parliamentary work from VoteWatch.eu. The articles on the 3 MEPs are summaries with analysis at the end, so this post will be an overview and contents page for the series.

The “reviews” of the MEPs are supposed to be neutral, and I try to summarise what the focus of each MEP’s work is and some of their general stances and look at the number of questions. All 3 MEPs had submitted under 10 written/oral questions to the Commission that were answered later (or are awaiting an answer). This is in line with MEPs in general: the vast majority seem to have asked 10 questions or less so far (with a few asking a lot more). Since they’re so close in the number of questions, I’ve looked at the “quality” of the questions (how specific they are) and, when assessing them in general, whether they are “party” or “independent” MEPs.

The model of “party” and “independent” MEP is generally:

- Party MEP: an MEP who is part of a Europarty group in the EP. Relevant to this role is how often they vote along with the party (since it shows how far voting for this MEP in elections is voting for that party and their policies/ideological leanings). Party MEPs would have more resources and are likely to be more specialised (focusing on a certain policy) and might depend on other MEPs in the group to deal with other policy areas. Party MEPs would be expected to be more likely to be spokespeople for their parties on issues and/or rapporteurs for the Parliament for a legislative proposal. (A rapporteur writes a report on the legislation and conducts negotiations between the parties to find an acceptable final package to put to the vote). In short: higher profiles and (assumed) greater influence but with less independence.

- Independent MEP: an MEP that doesn’t have the resources of the MEP as they sit outside the party groups. Assumed to be a more “generalist” MEP with time to focus on issues important to the constituency. So less rapporteuring, etc., and more time for asking questions and making speeches.

Nicholson (ECR/UCU-NF) and de Brún (GUE-NGL/Sinn Féin) are party MEPs and Dodds (No Group/DUP) is an independent MEP.

I’ve decided not to pass judgment on the low number of questions in this series – the general aim of the series is to give a loose assessment to show what the MEPs are doing (and give some criticism). This should show what policies they’re focusing on (because the EP does have power and it does do something!), and then you can decide how they’re doing and if you want to test them out for yourself with questions and constituency work. It should be noted that the info this is based on doesn't detail constituency work, so a lot of important contact with constituents isn't included. Nicholson and de Brún get a general “thumbs up” while I would question heavily the value and number of the questions Dodds has submitted.

Running through it is the theme of “independent” versus “party” MEP. I think that in a chamber of 700+ MEPs, having a party and connections is vital to get things done and influence legislation – not to mention providing some form of meaningful choice to the voter. That said, there are always arguments for and against.

James Nicholson (European Conservatives and Reformists/UCU-NF)
Bairbre de Brún (United Left [GUE-NGL]/Sinn Féin)
Diane Dodds (Non Aligned/DUP)

UPDATE: I've added another post to the series, this time looking at the wider context of the European Parliament, and why the bigger parties matter more.

P.S. VoteWatch.eu recently did a study on how the Europarties voted over the first 6 months of the Parliament. I’ve blogged about it here.

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