For the past nine months I've been living within the EU bubble in Brussels. The city is full of lobbyists, politicians and the odd ego so it's almost identical to what we see back home in Westminster. The European Parliament and UK Parliament may be miles away in geography; they are also hugely separated in terms of our understanding of how each functions.
This week I travelled Strasbourg which is the second home of the European Parliament, or the de facto, depending if you are chatting to a French MEP or not. But hundreds of miles away back on the shores of the UK, the debate around whether we should be part of the EU has suddenly burst into life and this should of course be welcomed, even for the biggest Europhiles out there. For years the debate over Europe has been stale and tossed around like a political hot potato, now people are speaking about these buildings I have been working in and it couldn't be more exciting.
However before we get ready to dive straight into the debate, there remains one elephant in the room that still hasn't budged over the past decades: the media and its coverage of EU affairs. I am acutely aware that the work that goes on in the EU does not have as big an impact on people's lives as national legislation, however regardless if it is a big or small, it has an impact none the less and people deserve to properly know about it.
If you are solely going by what's been featured the mainstream British press over the last few months, I can be accused of plotting the following dastardly EU plans: criminalising flower ownership, stopping your children from enjoying a pot of yoghurt in the school canteen and preventing you from gossiping to your neighbour about someone becoming bankrupt. Now before you get ready to hurl your odd shaped fruits in my direction, I can assure you that no EU bureaucrat is planning to do anything of the kind.
It's not just some newspapers who are writing questionable stories on the EU; recently Channel 4 filmed a documentary on Nigel Farage and his work as an MEP, with much focus on the work done here in Strasbourg. The show characterised his fellow parliamentarians as mere rubber stamp operators. This is in stark contrast to what actually happens here, yes during voting sessions they votes are conducted very quickly but this is because electronic voting is mostly used - a far cry from the dated lobby system still used in Westminster. There was also no reference to the important committee work that scrutinises all proposals put to the parliament, so viewers weren't given the full picture.
Therefore I am sure it will therefore come as little surprise that only 16% of voters questioned in a recent YouGov survey could name the actual date of next month's European elections - it's 22nd May before you scroll across the page and do a quick Google search. But not knowing when the elections are is one thing, but when we are potentially going to be presented with an in/out referendum on EU membership, the stakes are a little higher and our media really need to step up to the mark.
Our media outlets continue to the envy of my fellow colleagues from across Europe, but it's time for a rethink on how editors frame EU stories. The policies debated and passed at an EU level affect us all and yet receive a shoddy amount of coverage that usually amounts to nothing more than an annual April Fools story.
Going forward the makings of a fascinating discourse on our constitutional arrangements are nearly in place, but in order to have a grown up debate about the EU let's put down the bendy bananas and stick to the facts.Suggest a correction