What are 'anti-EU' MEPs for? After all they languish at the bottom of the attendance and voting list of UK MEPs in the plenary....
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by Henry Williams
It might be said that they serve their principal purpose on election night, by demonstrating public feeling about the EU and related matters such as immigration. Thereafter, it might be said, their sole function is to occupy a seat that would otherwise be occupied by a Europhile. That might be said, by, or of, UKIP, except that its MEPs, during the 2009-2014 Parliament, did not occupy their seats very often.
When they were present, they did not take part in hand votes, because they were unrecorded. They routinely abstained on amendments and voted against all final legislation. Even on highly emotive issues - such as female genital mutilation - their small contingent, of three MEPs present, abstained, as though the issue were of no importance. Of course when their abstention received unfavourable coverage, they voted, reluctantly, for the legislation, on the next occasion.
During the 2009-2014 Parliament, Mr. Farage Mr. Bloom and Mr. Nuttall languished at the bottom of the attendance and voting list of UK MEPs in the plenary (full meeting of Parliament in Strasbourg).
Their attendance in committees was much worse - lamentable in many cases. Gerald Batten was UKIP's spokesman on Home Affairs and he was a full member of LIBE (the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee). However, he attended on only a handful of occasions during the entire five years.
The only Anti-EU voices to be heard in LIBE were those of the Dutch Freedom Party, Vlaams Belang (the Flemish Nationalists) and the BNP MEP on the Committee.
It ought to be said that there were some honourable exceptions, among the UKIP contingent, who did attend the Strasbourg plenary and their committees, including Stuart Agnew and Marta Andreassen.
What, if anything, can be achieved by attending committee meetings? There are votes on legislation, though for full members only. Very occasionally there will be a crucial votes that will depend on one vote in either direction. There was an occasion when the absence of Godfrey Bloom from a meeting of the Finance Committee, allowed the Europhiles to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
Speeches in Committee are often not time-restricted and, even when they are, three minutes would frequently be given, instead of the single minute to which MEPs are often restriced in the plenary. This means that full arguments with reasoning and evidence can be employed.
But who will listen to such speeches? Well, they are on permanent public record and can be watched and listened to by constituents and others at home. If you simply give a predictable Anti-EU rant, few of your fellow committee members will listen. However, a subtle approach, starting on common ground, can sometimes lure MEPs down a sceptical path to a conclusion that they did not seek or expect.
It is sometimes possible to extract some valuable information from unexpected sources. The BNP MEP, Arthur Brons, kept raising the question, ad nauseam, in LIBE, of how many refused asylum seekers were ever sent home, leading to groans from the gallery. However, in March 2014, the Commission published the results of a study over three successive years that revealed that only a third went home and the others remained in the EU.
The standard UKIP argument is that their MEPs are better employed speaking to their constituents at home. However, most of the things that UKIP MEPs can do in their constituencies can be done, just as easily, by employees or by Party members. Activities that would benefit from the presence of an MEP can be scheduled for week-ends or during weeks in which there are no plenaries or committee meetings for the MEP in question.
Attendance at the plenary and in committee are duties that can be performed only by the MEP and not by anybody on his or her behalf. That is why attendance is so important.
Lastly, attendance of MEPs will be noticed by observers with vested interests. Whilst MEPs will rarely receive unsolicited accolades for regular attendance, from their critics, serious failure to attend will be remarked on. Mr. Farage's failure to attend his Fisheries Committee, even once, during two successive years was raised in a full session of the Parliament by the Liberal Leader, who promised that his lapse would receive full coverage on the British media. However, this really was the case of the dog that did not bark. His lapse was ignored by all of the media, even by the Pro-EU press.
Mr. Farage certainly lives a charmed life. Perhaps he has a function to fulfil that is valued by all of the media, from right to left, and has very little to do with the EU.
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