The July Plenary session in Strasbourg was, in many ways, a landmark occasion for the European Parliament. Wednesday featured two key events which marked the session out, demonstrating its growing influence and importance within the European Union: a critical debate to the future internal workings of the Union and a critical vote on the future relationship with the world's strongest economic power.
Alexis Tsipras, Prime Minister of Greece, came to the European Parliament to discuss its future involvement in the Eurozone and the European Union. Never before has a head of state of an EU country come before the only directly elected European-wide politicians at a time of such critical importance for their own country, but for the very existence of the European Union. The debate was live streamed and after weeks of discussions behind closed doors MEPs were able to tease out a truism. If Greece fails, Europe fails.
Hot on the heels of the debate was a crucial vote on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) vote for the European Parliament. A vote that set out what kind of TTIP they want to see between the U.S. and EU.
To some commentators and political observers, the increased significance of the European Parliament may come as a bit of a surprise. Yet the extensive coverage of the debate on Greece and the TTIP vote belies a certain truth: the only democratically elected European politicians have a significant role to play in Europe's future.
Labour MEPs have been party to this truth for some time and have been advocating and fighting for progressive and fair positions in the European Parliament's three key functions, which are interlinked: legislative, political, scrutiny.
The legislative process in the European Union can be a long process and involve many different actors. However, put simply the Commission puts forward proposals for legislation, MEPs review and amend the proposals based on a democratic vote and in tandem with national governments decide how best to implement the legislation. MEPs role in this process increased significantly after the enforcement of the Lisbon Treaty.
Labour MEPs have had many successes in the last legislature (2009-14) and the current one (2014 -). We led the fight to introduce safe regulations for electronic cigarettes, helped introduced country of origin meat labelling after the horse meat scandal and brought greater regulation of financial markets to prevent some of the most serious abuses by bankers.
Likewise, we have assent power over approving international trade deals such as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and the Multiannual Financial Framework (the current one spans a 7 year period 2014-2020), otherwise known as the European budget.
Overseeing and pressuring the European Commission is a mix between our political and legislative role as MEPs. We are holding the European Commission to account over the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. The report of the European Parliament that was adopted in July sends a clear warning signal to the Commission that MEPs want a TTIP that guarantees rights at work, protects our public services, upholds food and environmental standards while opening up new markets and cutting unnecessary red tape.
Our last primary task is to scrutinise the European Commission and the college of Commissioners (of which there is one from each of the 28 Member States). At the beginning of each legislature the Commission President and other members of the Commission are subject as a body to a vote of approval by Members of the European Parliament. During the Commissioner hearings MEPs have the opportunity to individually scrutinise Commissioner Candidates. Again Labour MEPs were at the forefront of this process, for example questioning the Prospective Energy and Climate Action Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete. Labour MEPs put serious pressure on him to fully explain his links to big oil companies and more importantly his remarks about men having superior intellect to women.
Of course it is hard to highlight all of this great work when the news is focussed heavily on the events in Greece. The treatment of Greece by the creditors, including EU member states, has led to some on the left questioning whether we should part of the European Union. However, as I made clear, this is not the time to be pulling up the draw bridge on Europe.
It's only by having a strong Labour voice, as part of the Socialists and Democrats Group in the European Parliament that we can hold the Commission to account effectively on issues like Greece.
I receive hundreds of emails about European issues, including many on Greece. As an MEP I am able to represent those views through my work. I take my constituents concerns seriously and reply to them via e-mail as well as on social media.
It is a scary thought, therefore, that without the European Parliament our electorate would be served by a sole Conservative voice: David Cameron. Normally I would say that this is not a situation worth thinking about. However, that could well be the situation we find ourselves in if we don't continue to make the positive case for Europe and, in particular, the European Parliament.