16 May 2019 • Gideon Wille
The work of our Euro parliamentarians: unknown means unloved
Mendeltje van Keulen, Professor of the Changing Role of Europe, together with Chris Aalberts, Lecturer of Research Skills, wrote the book ‘What Do They Really Do?’, based on conversations with twenty Dutch Euro parliamentarians.
Who can name a few Euro parliamentarians? Mendeltje van Keulen asks this question almost every day, both inside and outside of the university of applied sciences. “Many people will name Hans van Baalen or Sophie in ’t Veld. But that’s usually it.”
“Of course this isn’t a big surprise: European politics is far removed from the citizens and the media pays it relatively little attention. Dutch station RTL doesn’t even have a Brussels correspondent.”
Legislator and overseer
In addition to his position as a lecturer in research skills at THUAS, co-author Chris Aalberts is a member of the Van Keulen research group. He is also a reporter for ThePostOnline and writes books about European politics. “When Brussels makes the news, it’s usually around issues such as the Euro crisis, Brexit and the vision of the member states. What do political leaders such as Merkel and Macron say at a European summit? That makes headlines on the evening news.”
“But the media rarely covers the European parliament. Even though the legislative powers of the parliament have an enormous influence on decision-making. And the parliament is an important overseer of the European Commission.”
A guide to Europe
The book ‘Wat doen ze daar eigenlijk? (English translation: What Do They Really Do?’ helps voters find their away in the maze of European politics. When writing the book the authors spoke with 20 of the 26 Dutch Euro parliamentarians. The representatives talk about their activities, share their proudest results and explain how they keep in touch with their voters and support base.
Van Keulen: “Two students also mapped how often the parliamentarians made the news and how active they were on social media.”
In 2014, 37.3 per cent of Dutch voters went to the ballot box, fewer than the European average (42.6). Van Keulen has observed that many voters are cynical about Europe. “They believe that it’s all ‘wining and dining’ over there: they just sit around all day drinking away our tax contributions. But our book makes it very clear how hard these representatives actually work.”
“The European Parliament is like a travelling circus and parliamentarians are constantly active. Not only in Brussels and Strasbourg, but also in their own constituency in the Netherlands. Unfortunately, it’s hard to see what they accomplish in their European bubble. And for a politician that’s a problem; if you are not visible, you will not be reelected.”
Admittedly it is a challenge for the parliamentarians to showcase their achievements, emphasises Van Keulen: “They are involved in technical legislation and regulations about complicated issues such as consumer safety, artificial intelligence, data prevention and privacy.” Aalberts: “They are experts on the content. That doesn’t make for very exciting politics.”
Mendeltje van Keulen and Chris Aalberts
“It’s hard to see what Euro parliamentarians accomplish in their European bubble. And for a politician that’s a problem; if you are not visible, you will not be reelected.”