Unlike many other EU countries, Maltese MEPs are elected directly by the people, with each candidate getting so many votes to his/her name. They are accountable to their constituents and their country at large. It is their responsibility, therefore, to keep the people abreast of developments in the European Parliament and the other related EU institutions and give an account of their work. There are many ways of doing that: good use of the media, regular public meetings, their own website and internet social networks. Their own profile page on the EP website keeps track of their basic activities while other independent sites, such as votewatch.eu, keep track of their voting behaviour among other indicators.
It is, however, very surprising and unusual for any candidate or delegation to carry out a comparative exercise, as MEPs Simon Busuttil and David Casa did lately, to claim superiority over another group of candidates. The value and credibility of any evaluation exercise depends on its independence, which, in this particular case, is obviously missing. Its claim to being unbiased is tenuously held by reference to other independent sources.
However, these sites give a tally based on selected quantity and not quality indicators. Thus, for example, they definitely do not bother to find out whether the MEP carrying out the activity is trying to impress by undertaking trivial European Parliament activities. If a Maltese MEP’s delegation wants to be noted for making 75 “explanation of votes” in a year, each one saying “I voted in favour of a report because I agree with its contents”, let them do it. Or by splitting a parliamentary question to the European Commission in four or five parts to count as five questions in order to boost the PQs to an impressive 213, let them enjoy this silly style of questioning. Go to www.europarl.europa.eu/sidesSearch/search.do?type=QP&language=EN&term=7&author=2812 for a sample of these questions.
I thought an explanation of vote is meant as an MEP’s meaningful amplification of his/her vote on contentious issues that need to be well explained to one’s group or to one’s constituents. The same for a PQ. I thought that if you have four questions related to a similar subject you keep them together for ease of clarity and understanding. You do not repeat the introduction four times and paste one question to each to raise the number of PQs made to four. And, again, there is a big distinction between a few meaningful questions that matter greatly to the Maltese population from other generic ones dealing with issues that a little basic research would supply the answer.
To date, I have asked questions that matter greatly to my constituents, especially when the government tries to hide the information that should be available to them whether this concerns noise around the Freeport , assistance to poor and vulnerable families or the low use of EU funding by the government.
It is said that comparisons are odious. So let me speak for myself. In my first year in Parliament, I drafted two reports. Compare that to my colleague Dr Busuttil who drafted six. But wait a minute. This was my very first year in the European Parliament. How many reports did my colleague accomplish in his first or even his first four years in Parliament in the last legislature, which was his own first experience in the EP? Nil. Is this not significant?
What about the contents and subject of the reports. The subject of my reports, whether they concerned changes to the Treaty to safeguard Malta’s right to benefit if it were to face a financial or economic crisis or approve Estonia’s application to enter the eurozone, are considered by my group to have been substantial ones. Does the EPP consider that six half-page-reports drafted by Dr Busuttil last year, each one a photocopy of the other except for the name of the country being given a visa waiver, substantial work? These were Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas. Barbados, Mauritius, Saint Kitts and Nevis and the Seychelles? Go to http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sidesSearch/search.do?type=REPORT&language=EN&term=7&author=28120 for reference.
What about the important task of representing one’s group as shadow rapporteur as I have been doing for many other reports including two of the controversial Six Pack dealing with eurozone economic governance? Are these not valid even though they are not reported by Votewatch? What about the endless hours negotiating on behalf of my group with the Council and the Commission in the early hours of the morning? Should not these appear too on the Busuttil-Casa scoreboard?
Let me be clear. I am not stating that Dr Busuttil is not doing his part as an MEP. Far from it. Both of us, together with our colleagues, are undertaking stressful work for the good of our country. But to indulge in an annual exercise to denigrate one’s colleagues because they are proud members of the Labour Party when you know they too are putting in an effort is purely an infantile exercise. Let really independent professional bodies, not us, carry out such exercises on behalf of our constituents.
The same goes for attendance. The statistic reported by Votewatch simply reports the monthly three-day voting in plenary. Nothing is reported by them for the other parliamentary days. But even here the EPP Maltese delegation wanted to impress. I am not impressed in the least. My three days absence from the Parliament, for example, were excused by our president for a valid reason: my leading a 120-person EU election observation mission in Uganda. The first Maltese to be given this task. Compare that to a one-day absence by a Maltese EPP MEP to attend his village feast with his constituents.
There are many other instances I never in my life would have dreamt to report to score points. But I have not forgotten them. I would think it would serve our country better if we spent our energies on useful and more mature activities than having politically-manipulated scoreboards. I would like to think that the self-glorification of “having the longest village festa procession or petards display” has no place in our European Parliament. More than that, for an MEP it is very unedifying.
The Times, Saturday, August 6, 2011