This week has been a busy week in the European Parliament. Although it was only a three day working week, there were committee meetings, hearings and trilogues occurring. The Organised Crime, Corruption and Money Laundering Committee (CRIM) published its long awaited mid-term report, outlining proposals it would like to see the Commission adopt in order to stem the multi-billion euro industry that is organised crime.
Of course, whether the European Union or any legislative assembly can completely eradicate organised crime is a tall order in itself, but for many years, increases in human trafficking, drug trafficking and forced labour has made the EU step up and take notice. Measures suggested include creating a European Public Prosecutor’s office and making it easier to seize criminal assets (no surprise then that calls for a stronger banking union were also suggested). Of course no political group can hope to produce a report with 100% of what it wants, the whole nature of European parliamentary democracy dictates that groups form compromise amendments to reports and cooperate to get at least something through.
The reason we had a three day working week was because Thursday was Ascension Day and also Robert Schuman Day (the man considered one of the founding fathers of the European project). Friday was taken in lieu because both days fell on the same day. I had the fortune of travelling to Bruges on Thursday to witness a traditional Ascension Day parade, and although an atheist, I found it rather pleasant.
It made me realise that religion is still an important player in European society and politics. The very fact we have Christian Democratic parties across the continent shows just how pivotal religion is to people. Indeed the European People’s Party (EPP), the biggest political group in the parliament, is made up of many Christian Democratic parties. Even the ECR group contains the Dutch Christian Union. How Christian these groupings are depends on their own historical development and the practicalities that come with politics.
I have always wondered whether a ‘Christian’ party can truly be Christian when it has to make many decisions to please many people. Politics is often held captive to expediency – what is easy to do and also the most pleasing – can this truly exist in harmony with a Christian mantra? My view is that such parties use the word ‘Christian’ for convenient ends, to appear wholesome, serious and above all, righteous.
Of course my atheist leanings can be used against me to conjure accusations of bias, but there must be some truth to my assertion, given the wide spectrum, wide ranging size and unique evolutions which have created these parties. Probability dictates that some parties take the faith line more seriously than others, and if so, is one party deemed less Christian than another? This can be firmly asserted especially if any resemblance to the faith is sparse.
Next week will see preparations made for the following week’s plenary session in Strasbourg, voting lines will be finalised, views heard on upcoming reports and train, plane and hotel reservations made for four days of non-stop work. Although I do not travel to Strasbourg anymore, I always found it exhausting, challenging, but worthwhile. It was fulfilling to see months of legislative procedure enter the stage where all MEPs exercised their judgment and made their intentions clear to the Council of Ministers.
Under the co-decision procedure cemented under the Lisbon Treaty, once parliament has passed judgment on a report, and if that report is controversial, weeks of negotiating then follow between the Parliament and the Council. Sometimes, on important issues, the Commission enters negotiations when all three cannot initially agree. Such meetings are called trilogues and there have been numerous following the passing of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) through the European Parliament back in March.
The Irish currently have presidency of the Council and thus lead on negotiations, whilst the Chair of the Agricultural Committee (AGRI), Mr Capoulos Santos, leads for the parliamentary committee. The Commission is represented by the relevant administrative department. Moral of the story: In the European Parliament, they love negotiating.