The Parliament that Europeans want to hear from

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Plenary sitting, Strasbourg. [European Parliament]

The European Parliament is delivering but there is still room for improvement in the way it communicates to both the younger and older generations, writes Vice-President Ramón Valcárcel.

Ramón Valcárcel is a Spanish politician and Member of the European Parliament for the European People’s Party (EPP).

The European Union is a place of stability in a troubled world. At first sight, these could seem to be words that only a European public representative would pronounce; but these words have been, indeed, endorsed by 66% European citizens, according to the Special Eurobarometer published in December. The same citizens that are asking the EU to deliver on what truly concerns them, which is the control of migration flows; the effective fight against terrorism to keep our cities and towns safe; further development of the single market to foster job creation and economic growth; and a real push for more inclusive social policies.

As it is well-known in Brussels, the European institutions do, indeed, deliver on these and other issues that are of equal importance to preserving the European way of life. For instance, the European Parliament has recently approved measures to identify and cut financing for terrorist groups, as well as for carrying out sufficient actions to tackle radicalisation from its roots. It has also shaped initiatives to make multinationals pay their fair share of taxes in the 28 member states, to provide border agencies with the necessary means to protect our territory and to reinforce customs controls over agricultural products coming from third countries in order to guarantee that they meet the community standards.

However, it is not so well-known in the rest of our regions, as stated by the citizens themselves. The November Eurobarometer showed that 66% Europeans said they were not informed of the workings of the European Parliament. And, still, more than half of them see their belonging to the EU as something positive. Because the Union is not just a synonym for progress, but also for the respect for human rights, the founding values (freedom, equality, solidarity, rule of law, justice, tolerance, pluralism and non-discrimination) and democracy to its greatest extent. These are, at the same time, the solid foundations of the European institutional system. And these, again, are not just political stances, but also that of the majority of Europeans. As expressed by 57% respondents of the latest Special Eurobaromenter, the EU is also what best embodies peace and freedom of opinion; and 55% say the same about solidarity and social equality.

The European Parliament, being the only directly elected EU institution, acts as the guarantor of these values, while remaining an open space for the most fruitful debate, for the exchange of views and ideas coming from all the European regions and deriving from all over the political spectrum. At the same time, it effectively raises the voice of the citizenship as a common one -thus strengthening it – before the Commission and the Council, as well as holding both institutions accountable on topics ranging from agricultural policy to border control or roaming.

With regard to this, parliamentary competences are extensive, but limited in time and form. These limitations require that the 751 members of the European Parliament, elected directly by the citizens every five years, focus strictly on pressing issues – and on issues that fall, indeed, under the competences of the house. In this sense, making an optimal use of parliamentary timing and resources implies concentrating on giving solutions to the problems that the citizens see as most relevant.

Apart from improving the efficiency of parliamentary workings, bringing these even closer to the citizens should be, indeed, the main priority for the newly renovated house, as of mid-January. To achieve this goal, the Parliament must keep championing digital democracy. Already, through the efforts of its communications team, complex legislative documents are passed on as clear and simple messages. By using tools as innovative as virtual reality, platforms such as Snapchat and Medium or features like Twitter Moments, it aims to make youngsters feel closer to their Parliament. And by broadcasting live all plenary sessions and committee meetings, it offers complete coverage of the activities carried out by all 751 representatives.

While all these efforts ensure a future for the European project by boosting the engagement of digital natives, they cannot go alone. The generational gap has shown the urgent need to explain, more and better, what Europe does for the benefit of its workers, its families, its unemployed and its seniors. Traditional media are, in this respect, the most desirable partners for reaching each and every European citizen. It is thus necessary to reinforce the institutional compromise with radio stations, television networks and newspapers, aiming to find wider spaces for reporting on European parliamentary facts and figures.

A society more and better informed is a freer society. And in this so-called ‘post-truth era’, journalists’ efforts to inform on facts and figures are needed more than ever. Therefore, the Parliament should also keep working closely with the information offices that it has in all 28 member states. No-one knows better how to best turn a pan-European message into a local one.

In the most critical times of the entire history of the Union, what citizens are demanding are results. Results on the fight against terrorism (82% think that this should be the top priority for the EU), on job creation, on tax evasion, on border control and on environmental protection. In the most critical times, also, the European Parliament arises as the perfect body in which to discuss and pass legislation that goes in line with citizens’ concerns. By keeping the focus on delivering on these issues, as well as by continuously improving on the ways through which it brings Europe closer, the European Parliament will truly become the Parliament that Europeans want to hear from.

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