It’s been one year since voters across Europe showed up in few, but vocal numbers to elect their representatives to the European Parliament. The message from voters and abstainers alike was clear: they’d had enough of the status quo in the European Union.
A lot has happened in the year since: mainstream parties across the continent have lost electoral ground and far-right parties have emerged as a significant force in many countries. The UK, one of the largest members of the EU, is embarking on the delivery of its campaign promise to redefine its relationship with Europe, with the very real possibility that it might leave the EU. Meanwhile, Greece teeters on bankruptcy, a feeble and uncoordinated European response to conflict has turned the Mediterranean into a graveyard for refugees and a generation of young Europeans grapples with professional and economic precarity.
As the European Parliament struggles to heed the message of the electorate, their colleagues in other EU institutions continue to sideline them. This sidelining has caused MEPs to lament not having enough to do. As the only directly elected body of the EU, the Parliament should make use of its very public platform. MEPs should be much more forceful in denouncing where current EU mechanisms fall short, and it should do so by speaking directly to the public.
Ideally, the Parliament would take the initiative and call for treaty change to impose itself on debates around these critical topics. But other options are available, too, such as the Citizens’ Agora, promoting radical reform of the European Citizens Initiative or using time saved from examining legislation to tour Europe and lead public debate.
If it dared to reach out to the public, the European Parliament could not only help address the democratic retrenchment, but also show the other institutions that there are consequences to sidelining the Parliament.