For the past five years the parliament has had an equal say to the member states in deciding the fine details of all the rules and laws and has a final say on pivotal issues like the EU’s budget — both the long-term six-year one and the day-to-day spending that they have to approve annually.
The number of Irish MEPs will reduce from 12 to 11 for the next five years, which is a small proportion of the 751 seats after June’s election. But with the average work production of Irish MEPs similar to that of German MEPs, no one can accuse them of not using their voice.
Our chart gives a unique insight into the performance of the Irish MEPs from 2009 to 2013 — for some the performance is even better than depicted as three of them have held their seats for only the past two years but have still managed to put in a huge workload and one has been missing due to illness for long periods.
We have tried to give an indication not just of the quantity but of the weight of the work by allocating more points to the reports and opinions that form the backbone of the parliament’s work.
A breakdown of the figures show that of the 8,405 reports and shadow reports put together by MEPs, the Irish were responsible for 1.1% — a little more than the 0.9% of Ireland’s population as a percentage of the EU’s 500m citizens.
The 117 opinions and shadow opinions and the 900 amendments to the report produced by the Irish MEPs was around 1.8% of the total — double the population share and exceeding the average for the German MEPs who tend to lead the way in the parliament with their 99 MEPs.
In fact, the workload per Irish MEP was much better than these averages when the short time served by four — a third of the Irish members — is taken into account.
The workload of course was not spread evenly between the MEPs with some taking on more than others and more, such as Jim Higgins, being one of the parliament’s questers, representing MEPs in administrative matters — an area that can win you many friends.
The kind of work is not always equal either with some reports very substantial and technical, like that to do with data protection tackled by Seán Kelly while others focused on more homegrown issues.
The accolades however have to go to independent MEP Marian Harkin who despite the gruelling trip from Sligo to Brussels and Strasbourg has produced 59 reports and opinions on a wide range of issues and made an impressive number of speeches at the parliament’s plenary sessions, as well as putting forward a sizeable number of questions to the commission mainly.
She is joined by another star performer, Paul Murphy, who took over the seat in April 2011 from Joe Higgins who returned to the Dáil. In that period he wrote 59 reports and opinions and was on his feet during the parliament’s one- and three-minute speech opportunities.
Phil Prendergast and Emer Costello, both Labour, also took up their seats just two years ago with Ms Costello taking over the busy Palestinian delegation role from her predecessor Proinsias De Rossa which saw her travel to the region on a number of occasions.
Traditionally the Irish MEPs occupied seats in the Agriculture and Rural Development committee, and this term, two MEPs sat there as full members with another two as substitutes. Getting seats on one of the all important 20 committees is not a foregone conclusion as the political groups in the parliament are allocated a limited number and distribute them among their members.
Irish MEPs however did manage to sit either as full or substitute members on 15 of the committees although as the economic crisis hit it would have been good to have more than one MEP — Gay Mitchell — sitting on the Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee.
Usually, despite being just a substitute member, he managed to ask the questions that put Ireland’s case to the president of the European Central Bank when he came before the committee for their regular monthly debriefings. But there was little Irish input into revising the banking structures.
The fact that the MEPs were spread among the different political groups in the parliament was also to Ireland’s advantage both in terms of getting information and informing their fellow MEPs about national interests. There were four Fine Gael members of the European People’s Party with Mairead McGuinness becoming one of its vice-presidents; three Labour members were in the second largest Socialist group; the three Fianna Fáil MEPs and independent Ms Harkin are members of the liberal ALDE group; Paul Murphy in the left GUE group.
The importance of the parliament among the EU institutions shouldn’t be underestimated, and the quality of the MEPs is of critical importance when it comes to getting meaningful work to do, and taking advantage of the opportunities offered.
While most of the negotiations between member states is done behind closed doors, much of the parliament’s business is done in committees where their members draw up reports and opinions and build amendments to change the legislation that comes from the European Commission.
The parliament has grasped and extended its powers over the past term, and hit the headlines with its attempts to blow the lid on European countries cooperating with US kidnappings and secret jails for terror suspects; on spying not just by the US’s NSA but also by member states’ espionage services on citizens; on the policies and work of the troika; on new rules to rein in banks and the financial industry; on data protection; tobacco; and new EU rules on how Brussels supervises national budgets and spending.
While some of the time they have proved themselves to be the champions of the citizen, other times they have allowed themselves become the mouthpiece of big interests with the evidence in the amendments some MEPs put forward to draft laws which were written by lobbyists.
While the EU budget is only about 1% of the EU’s GDP even with 96% of it returning to the member states, the EU’s clout is not in the money it spends but in the laws it introduces in that decide how each country runs. And there is no sign that its influence on EU citizens’ daily lives is going to fade.
Votes attendance: Roll-call vote for final vote for legislation.
Reports: Committees consider draft legislation using reports drawn up by a committee member, with shadow reports from a member of the other political groups. MEPs can also draft reports on issues they consider important.
This can be a long, cumbersome job requiring a lot of work: 10 marks for each.
Opinions: Follow a similar process but are written to inform other committees that are also involved in the same draft legislation. Shadow opinions are made by members of the different political groups: 8 marks for each.
Reports amended: Usually means that MEPs have met and discussed details of the draft legislation with interested parties from national governments to NGOs and business. They need to convince fellow MEPs to support them: 6 marks for each.
Motions: Proposals put forward by an MEP on draft legislation: 2 marks for each.
Declarations: Proposal for a particular policy to become the official parliament one — needs support of more than 50% of MEPs.
Speeches: 1-to-3-minute speech in plenary sessions: 2 marks for each.
Questions: Oral or written, usually to the European Commission: 2 marks.