Last week Vote Watch, an international NGO that tracks the votes of MEPs, released this special report looking at the effect the UK has had on EU legislation. The report looks at the two bodies responsible for amending and passing legislation from the European Commission – the Council of the EU, where we send UK ministers, and the European Parliament, where we send our 73 MEPs. So does their report vindicate the Leave camp’s claims that we have no influence?
One of the first things of note from their analysis is the big increase in cases of conflict in the Council when comparing the 2004-2009 period and the 2009-2015 period, i.e. when we started sending Tories, we started voting against or abstaining a lot more against EU wide interests, particularly on budgetary policies, foreign and security policy, and international development. This means that we went from being on the losing side 2.6% of the time during 04-09 to 12.3% during 09-15. Obviously on the flip side, this also shows that we were still voting and winning in almost 9/10 cases!
For those still complaining we have little influence, take note – with 22 MEPs, UKIP are our largest delegation in the Parliament. The report shows that UKIP MEPs’ capacity to exert influence in the European Parliament is significantly diminished by their very low participation rate in EP votes: in the first year of the current term, UKIP’s delegation has had a record low participation rate of just 62.3% in plenary votes, which places it at the very bottom among all national party delegations in the EU. Meanwhile, Greens/EFA MEPs have a much higher turnout, and have won (voted with the winning side) in 64% of votes since 2004.
And so onto positions of relative power in the Parliament. In short, UK MEPs have captured many agenda-setting positions. We have had Vice-Presidents, political group leaders, and Chairs of important committees. UK MEPs have also won rapporteurships (lead negotiator position) on key legislation, which has enabled them to shape EU law. Moreover, UK MEPs have not been ‘underrepresented’ relative to the MEPs from the other big member states. All of this has been possible despite the growing number of UKIP MEPs, who, along with their poor attendance have not competed for many key offices or rapporteurships.
The end of the report summarises with some of the main political influence that the UK has had. From a Green perspective it paints a mixed picture, with the UK driving support for nuclear and unconventional energies like fracking, and hampering action on tax avoidance, but also contributing significantly to the EU budget and enhancing copyright laws.
So there you have it then – the UK has plenty of influence, but if the people we send just aren’t up to the job, then you can’t expect to return a positive change for citizens across Europe.