THE BLOG

Westminster Is Irrelevant (Not That You Would Know It)

17/03/2014 17:26 GMT | Updated 17/05/2014 10:59 BST

Currently on BBC Radio 4 is an item about a recent debate in the House of Commons between MPs on the subject of badgers. It's not that I don't sympathise with the plight of the humble (and apparently promiscuous) badger or the farmers, whose lives seem to be constantly ruined by plagues, natural disasters and Tesco price cuts. It's just that in the grand scheme of things, badger TB surely doesn't warrant a full debate in the Commons and such extensive coverage on what is meant to be the BBC's go-to station for people who are vaguely bothered about politics.

I say this now because I got back from Strasbourg last week, where the European Parliament absurdly ships itself each month to vote on various regulations and directives. And, unsurprisingly, there was almost no mention of what happened in any UK newspaper, blog or radio station. To be quite honest with you, it makes me want to bash my head against a wall. What happens in Brussels (and Strasbourg) has far more impact on any of lives than what MPs in Westminster usually bitch and moan about.

Here is a list of what was voted on this week, to give you an idea of what you are not being told about:

  • Measures to prevent money launderers and terrorists from using the financial system to move funds around.
  • Adjustments to the way you are treated by a country when you move there.
  • A report that investigated the treatment of bailed out countries by international financial bodies and called for the establishment of a European Monetary Fund.
  • A proposal that will authorise the funding of around £50 million of your money to international accounting standards quangos.
  • A decision to guarantee any losses made by the European Investment Bank with your money.
  • Several proposals that will enhance data protection measures, particularly in reference to NSA spying.
  • An agreement to enhance cooperation between European and American scientific research communities
  • The authorisation of the European Copernicus programme which involves the global monitoring of the environment and civilian populations by satellites
  • An agreement to protect genetic resources in the face of threats to global biodiversity.
  • A phasing out and eventual ban of types of damaging CFC gases.
  • A proposal to force developers to tell locals about environmental impacts of their projects.
  • Measures to enhance protections for people travelling on package holidays.
  • An attempt to introduce the Single European Sky, which would reduce pollution and times for air travel.
  • Tougher technical and registration standards for cars and lorries on the road.

I could add another dozen or so things to this list. But you get the point. Each one of the above will directly affect you and yet you probably have no idea that they were even being discussed in the first place.

Full disclosure: I work for a Conservative MEP and will vote Tory in the elections in May (ghastly, I know). But this isn't about ideology. I am just horrified by the national state of collective amnesia currently engulfing the UK. No one seems to have a clue what's going on, and no one really seems interested in finding out.

I don't think it's any one person's fault. Far from it. It reflects the lack of understanding not just amongst British politicians, but also our journalists, our media providers, our business leaders, our teachers, pretty much everyone in fact. And this is made worse by the incredibly confusing, opaque and distant European legislative system (which I struggle to understand even after three years of exile here).

Unfortunately, the only mention of the European Union is usually in relation to what comes out of Nigel Farage's mouth, crap Daily Mail headlines, or from backbench Tories who want to sound like Farage and be in Daily Mail headlines. And it's of course not in the interest of any MP in Westminster to say publically they really are a complete waste of money because all power now resides either in Cameron's dungeon in Downing Street or in Brussels.

The debates spattered across our airwaves and on our televisions about Europe tend not to be based on fact or reality, or any of the dozens of laws being worked and voted on in Brussels. They are instead opportunities for our politicians to scream and shout at each other about things they don't really understand in order to fend off the threat from Ukip, which rides roughshod over any attempts to discuss an issue sensibly.

This is an unfortunate state of affairs. Whether you like or not, whether you want to sever all contact with the European continent or to worship at the altar of Merkel, we are in the European Union and are likely to be so for quite some time. So surely it's about time our journalists and politicians worked out what the European Parliament actually is and what MEPs actually do before giving Farage yet more airtime to get redfaced and angry.

In the car on the way back from Strasbourg yesterday (which by the way really is a complete waste of time, energy and money), I had a long conversation with the assistant of a Croatian MEP. Croatia joined the EU last year and was only recently a warzone, and so its people have a very different view of it to that of the older member states like the UK. She talked about its benefits but also acknowledged its negative sides, of which there are many. But what interested me the most was when she said that most Croatians actually know what the EU is, what the Parliament does and what it means to have joined.

How refreshing. I only began to understand what was going on in Brussels when I moved here a few years ago. I've become more sceptic as I've learnt more about it, but what everyone can agree on, regardless of political colour, is that the debate about Europe taking place in the UK is a non debate based on fictions, disinformation, myth and emotion. Modern democracy at its finest.