In June 2009 half a billion European citizens in all 27 Member States of the European Union (EU) will elect 736 Members of the European Parliament in the biggest trans-national election in history. Romina Vegro, BOND EU Policy Officer, looks at the significance of this in relation to the development agenda.
With EU countries providing over half of all development aid and forming the world’s largest trade bloc, the EU is pivotal to efforts for more and better aid, the resolution of debt problems and trade justice. EU positions in international fora are also critical in generating positive or negative change on issues such as climate change, human rights, global public accountability and human security.
The European Parliament has a crucial role to play in the EU development policies: together with the European Council, the Parliament decides on budgets and scrutinizes aid programmes including Country Strategy Papers; and on trade, the Parliament has to ratify all European agreements and has the power to raise issues with the European Commission. Moreover, as the watchdog of European institutions, the European Parliament is also able to put political pressure upon issues on which it does not decide. The Lisbon Treaty, if entering into force, will reinforce the role of the Parliament, the number of cases in which the European Parliament will have decision power increases and the link between national parliaments and European Parliament is strengthened.
Thus, the upcoming year 2009 will be an opportunity for change in various fields, especially in development aid. A new European Parliament and a new European Commission will take office for the following five years. The Parliament will have increased powers over the election of the President of the European Commission.
The first task will be to oversee the implementation of the new institutional structure foreseen by the Lisbon Treaty, following ratification. This will include the creation of the new post of High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and the restructuring the EU external action service, and will have a significant impact on the EU’s development policies. It will also oversee a crucial budget review by the end of 2009 which will lay the foundations for changes in the EU budget 2013-19. These institutional changes will determine the positioning of the enlarged EU in the years leading to the 2015 deadline for achieving the Millennium Development Goals.
The European Parliament election also represents a unique opportunity for the economic and social justice agenda to gain visibility in the public domain. The European Parliament is the European institution more likely to be an ally of civil society movements because of its representation and watchdog role. It is therefore essential that civil society ensures the next European Parliament has as many champions against poverty and inequality as possible.
CONCORD, the pan European Confederation of NGOs for Relief and Development, has started lobbying activities ahead of the 2009 elections. It will produce a policy manifesto on issues related to EU development policy with specific demands for future MEPs by the end of June 2008. This provides an opportunity for NGOs across Europe to elaborate coherent demands for MEPs. CONCORD members will adapt and use the manifesto in their countries within a joint advocacy strategy. Synergies between CONCORD and the Global Call to Action Against Poverty (GCAP) in Europe make it possible to combine coordinated insider lobbying with popular public campaigning across all 27 Member States and in Brussels.
The BOND European Policy Group is leading the campaigning in the UK, building on their experience from the 2004 European Parliament election. Each NGO and partner single issue network has its area of policy priority for the elections. Examples include the Trade Justice Movement’s main priority of the EU’s Global Europe agenda; UK Aid Networks’ focus on more and better aid and Christian Aid and Tearfund who are prioritising climate change. Many UK NGOs will work in Europe-wide alliances. BOND’s role, working with the leadership of the UK Campaigning Coordination Team, is to realise through the election campaign “the power of the collective voice to make the new European Parliament part of a Europe that contributes far more to a just, democratic and sustainable world than it does now”.
For more information about the European Parliament elections, contact Romina Vegro, BOND EU Policy Officer. To find out more about becoming engaged in collective campaigning ahead of and during the European Parliament elections, contact Glen Tarman, BOND Advocacy Manager.