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Kick-starting the EU from the European Parliament

Submitted by on 04 May 2011 – 14:04

By Graham Watson MEP

I have the honour of becoming Editor of the Government Gazette at an extremely important time for the European Union. Europe faces major and unprecedented challenges such as climate change and the economic and financial crisis, and, as a result of the Lisbon Treaty, we finally have the tools to meet them.

The benefits of the Lisbon Treaty, which came into force in December 2009, have been much vaunted.  More streamlined decision making, more coherence and more clout for the directly elected representatives in the European Parliament.

But there is a sense that the European Parliament and the EU generally have been slow to reap the full benefit of a more “European” approach to policy; there remains a rather stagnated agenda that is reactive rather than visionary.

It is vital that this changes as recent years have seen the onset of a new kind of Eurosclerosis, whereby the development of the EU has been restricted by a pre-occupation with constitutional rather than policy questions. Many citizens have become disillusioned with the European project, and it is time the EU uses its Lisbon powers to once again prove its worth. This means tackling issues such as energy security, economic prosperity, and Europe’s impact on global politics.

So will the EU step up to this challenge? Yes, I believe it will, and I am equally confident that the impetus will come from the European Parliament.

I recently wrote a book, Building a Liberal Europe (John Harper Publishing), in which I reflect on my sixteen years in the European Parliament and the seven and a half years as leader of the Liberal Group. One of the main conclusions I draw about this period is that the European Parliament has often been a factory of ideas for the EU. MEPs, largely free from the burden of nation-centric thinking, have been instrumental in driving forward the initiatives that have made a real impact on the lives of citizens, from the Single Market to cross-border health rights.

And there are signs that the House is once again discovering this spirit and is willing to flex its post-Lisbon muscles. For example, in the first month that the Lisbon Treaty was in force, MEPs called a halt to the Council and Commission’s SWIFT package, which transferred the details of EU citizens’ bank accounts to the US Government authorities. The message was clear and unavoidable; privacy and citizens’ rights should be at the heart of the EU.

And MEPs have not been afraid to insist publicly that governance of the Eurozone should be a pre-dominantly Community-level function.  The Government Gazette will report on all of these important issues.

In my area of interest, foreign affairs, Parliament has used its new role as a key stakeholder in the European External Action Service and wider EU foreign policy to call for a more coherent approach to the democratic uprisings across North Africa.

I have received considerable support for my suggestion that the EU creates a new common policy denying the leaders of autocratic governments and their immediate families access to our countries for private purposes: they should not be allowed to launder their wealth through our banking systems or property markets, educate their children in our schools or take private holidays in our resorts. My colleagues and I know that this is a good first step towards truly harnessing Europe’s “soft power” and the building of real influence in world affairs.

I have little doubt that Parliament’s enhanced role will help kick-start the EU policy-making machine and prompt more inspired and ambitious initiatives in all areas. For these reasons, the Government Gazette is set to report on a fascinating period in the EU’s history.