Monitoring your MEP: A tricky issue

Tiered services. US, 2009.

In the run-up to the European elections, some websites are trying to monitor MEPs according to their attendance in plenary sessions and committee meetings. But in practice the task is proving extremely difficult. EURACTIV France contributed to this report.

Last week, one such website, www.parlorama.eu, was forced to shut down after its initiator was flooded with complaints from MEPs.

Flavien Deltort, a former MEP’s assistant from Italy, had attempted to rate parliamentarians according to their attendance in plenary sessions, committee meetings and broader participation in parliamentary life.

But only two days after launching his website last week, Deltort was forced to close it down “due to the overwhelming volume of complaints”. Threatened with prosecution by many MEPs, he decided to temporary close the website.

Deltort, who served as an assistant to Italian Liberal MEP Marco Cappato, had attempted to achieve what his former boss had called for in a proposal put forward last January to provide “a public analysis of MEPs’ attendance”.

Deltort based its classification on seven groups of publicly available data: attendance in plenary sessions, attendance in committee meetings, adopted reports, adopted opinions, adopted resolutions, written questions tabled by MEPs, and oral questions asked during plenary sessions.

A quantitative method

However, this quantitative method chosen by Deltort failed to take into account other parliamentary activities. Indeed, within hours of the service going online, several MEPs had already protested against the website.

In particular, MEPs complained that time-consuming activities carried out by political group coordinators or parliamentary committee presidents and vice-presidents had not been taken into account.

Others stressed the role of so-called “shadow rapporteurs” regarding sensitive political dossiers, or the time MEPs spend in their constituencies or in external missions as observers.

In addition, not all parliamentary reports carry the same political importance, with some heavy files requiring serious coordination with member-state representatives, and others requiring little extra work due to their smaller significance.

Speaking at a press conference in Strasbourg, Deltort admitted that his ranking was “not a scientific study,” conceding that “some data is missing to appreciate MEPs’ work properly”.

However, he also stressed that such data was not publicly available and was thus impossible to measure.

Best and worst MEPs

In some countries, Deltort’s study produced surprising results. Indeed, Eurosceptic British MEP Robert Kilroy-Silk received the highest rating with regard to parliamentary activity for the UK, as he is the author of about 1,600 written questions to the European Commission.

In France, the MEP with the highest ranking (in 61st place) is Socialist member Pervenche Berès, who campaigned against the EU’s Consitutional Treaty in the 2005 referendum. And in Poland, Maciej Giertych, a Eurosceptic from the League of Polish Families, is in the national top ten.

According to the list, the three best-performing MEPs are Greek centre-right member Marie Panayotopoulos-Cassiotou, Spanish Green Raül Romeva i Rueda and Portuguse Socialist Paulo Casaca.

The three worst performers were Umberto Bossi, leader of the Lega Nord, Polish centre-right and race pilot Krzysztof Ho?owczyc, and French Communist Paul Vergès. 

In a letter to colleagues obtained by EURACTIV, French Liberal MEP Jean-Marie Cavada said he considered Deltort's work as "a pseudo-survey". In particular, he regretted that inspection missions carried out by MEPs to report on what they see in immigrant detention centres or during visits to EU agencies had not been taken into account.

French MEP Elisabeth Morin (EPP-ED), who replaced Roselyne Bachelot when the latter became health minister, complained that the work of shadow rapporteurs was not taken into account by the study. Morin said shadow rapporteurs are crucial to defining the positions of political groups on legislative proposals. "This invisible work is an essential part of parliamentary work," she stressed.

French MEP Françoise Grossetête (EPP-ED) questioned the political motivations of the study. "A former parliamentary assistant of an Italian member appointed by his former deputy to establish a classification: what objectivity! Isn't it rather for independent and rigorous institutes, as has already been done, to publish such rankings?," she asked.

French Socialist MEP Henri Weber, who is seeking a second term, said: "I never write written questions, because it is useless!"

Portuguese Socialist MEP Paulo Casaca has written to European Parliament President Hans-Gert Pöttering to request that the information publicised by the EU assembly on MEPs' activities be made "clearer, exhaustive and less susceptible to misinterpretation".

"Of course it is important to have parliamentarians who are engaged and who are present. But attendance is not the unique criterion to evaluate MEPs, and it should be reconsidered," said Thierry Chopin, director of studies at the Robert Schuman Foundation

He insists that the majority of parliamentary work is done in committees and not during plenary sessions. "The criterion of the number of questions, which are not very useful and don't have any legal impact, is also relative," he added. 

There have been several attempts to rank MEPs according to their attendance records and parliamentary activities.

As EURACTIV reported last December, a website developed by the Romanian Institute for Public Policies (IPP), which attempted to monitor the activities of all 785 MEPs, was brought offline due to a lack of funding (EURACTIV 01/12/2009).

EPvote, a private website which claims to be independent from any political group, also gives an overview of MEPs' voting records, "according to country, political group and MEP". However, only 690 of the texts voted upon since May 2008 have been put into the database so far.

Another website, VoteWatchEU, is set to be unveiled on 11 May. "Rather than making it a 'naming-and-shaming' exercise, the intention is simply to give detailed facts and 'evidence' of what the MEPs do and decide at EU level," says Sara Hagemann, the site's co-founder.

For information about French MEPs, the Robert Schuman Foundation publishes an annual study based on other elements: the importance of political groups, the importance of the committees, and the positions of responsibility held by the MEPs. 

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