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Are MEPs really ridiculous?

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By Chris Harris
Are MEPs really ridiculous?

<p><span class="caps">MEP</span>s were branded “ridiculous” and “not serious” in a <a href="http://www.euronews.com/2017/07/04/you-are-ridiculous---junker-on-empty-eu-parliament">bitter attack</a> by EU chief Jean-Claude Juncker.</p> <p>His outburst was prompted by just 30 of the European Parliament’s 751 members turning up to a session in Strasbourg to review Malta’s six-month presidency.</p> <p>Juncker’s broadside sparked a furious response from European Parliament president Antonio Tajani.</p> <p>But, did Juncker have a point? </p> <p>To test the idea we’ve talked to experts and looked at what the statistics tell us.</p> <p><h3>What did Jean-Claude Juncker say?</h3><br /> </p> <p><iframe width="675" height="340" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/qyEyqQYnZRo" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe></p> <h3>Is this the first time <span class="caps">MEP</span>s have been criticised?</h3> <p>No. </p> <p><span class="caps">MEP</span>s are criticised for <a href="https://www.economist.com/news/briefing/21602200-european-elections-will-neither-lend-new-credibility-european-parliament-nor-give">lacking legitimacy</a>, because turnout is low at European elections, and <a href="http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/europpblog/2012/08/07/meps-voting-citizen-preferences-weak-relationship/">not connecting enough with voters</a>.</p> <p>There are also suggestions the European Parliament doesn’t have sufficient power and <a href="http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/brexit-eu-parliament-uk-leave-talks-meps-ukip-nigel-farage-european-commission-council-a7680236.html">is a mere talking shop</a>. This has been <a href="http://www.gleniswillmott.eu/much-more-than-a-talking-shop/">disputed</a> amid claims <span class="caps">MEP</span>s now have more power and share decision making with ministers from member states.</p> <p>Perhaps the most controversial is the cost of <a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/10565686/The-farce-of-the-EU-travelling-circus.html">moving the parliament between Strasbourg and Brussels</a> and paying <span class="caps">MEP</span>s. Their salaries have been criticised for being <a href="http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2329554/EU-expenses-MEPs-Brussels-earn-740-average-citizen-enjoy-free-haircuts-gallons-petrol.html">too generous</a> and there is a <a href="http://www.euronews.com/2015/11/23/bid-to-reveal-meps-expenses-spending-taken-to-eu-s-highest-court">lack of transparency</a> around their expenses.</p> <h3>Did Juncker have a point?</h3> <p>“I don’t think he’s right,” Dr Katjana Gattermann, assistant professor of political communication and journalism at the University of Amsterdam told Euronews. “He’s said <span class="caps">MEP</span>s are ridiculous but I think there are three considerations. </p> <p>“Firstly, this was one incident and obviously <span class="caps">MEP</span>s were not there. But there are many other incidents when important things happen and there is a full house.”</p> <p>She said <span class="caps">MEP</span>s don’t just turn up to parliament and that their absence should be seen in the context of other roles they perform, such as serving their constituencies or preparing for work in committees.</p> <p>Gattermann <a href="http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/europpblog/2015/03/23/newspapers-focus-on-who-meps-are-rather-than-on-what-they-do-in-the-european-parliament/">has also argued</a> that active <span class="caps">MEP</span>s get less press coverage than absent ones. This, she says, leads to a “potential motivational problem” for politicians with ambitions domestically, who may see their time is better served at home.</p> <h3>What do the statistics say?</h3> <p>Figures from VoteWatch, an online platform that monitors MEPs’ activities, shows just 16 of 751 members turn up to less than two-thirds of votes.</p> <p>Austria has the best record – their <span class="caps">MEP</span>s turn up to 95.7 percent of votes. </p> <p>The UK is the worst: its <span class="caps">MEP</span>s, driven by anti-EU party <span class="caps">UKIP</span>, turn up to just 81.75 percent of voting sessions.</p> <p><script id="infogram_0_meps_voting_records" title="MEPs' voting records" src="//e.infogram.com/js/dist/embed.js?nOs" type="text/javascript"></script></p> <p>However, the session in which Juncker had his outburst was a plenary session, rather a voting one. Again, the UK has the worst voting record, with <span class="caps">MEP</span>s turning up to 81.2 percent of plenary sessions, <a href="http://www.mepranking.eu/8/ep.php?order=ATT">according to mepranking.eu</a>.</p> <p>However plenary attendance data is said to be less reliable, because it only records <span class="caps">MEP</span>s presence in the parliamentary complex, rather than in the actual chamber.</p> <p>Doru Frantescu, director of VoteWatch, told Euronews: “Statistics show that in general <span class="caps">MEP</span>s are present, also taking into account that they have to travel from their member states every week.</p> <p>“However, the motivation to go to the plenary depends on the importance and relevance of the debates, as perceived by the <span class="caps">MEP</span>s. </p> <p>“During other debates with Mr Juncker the chamber was full. </p> <p>“This time <span class="caps">MEP</span>s did not participate as they were not interested in assessing the Maltese presidency, which they saw more as a formality than as an opportunity to have relevant discussions. </p> <p>“However, Juncker had a point when he emphasized that if this were an assessment of a German Presidency under Merkel or French under Macron, the chamber would have probably been full, which highlights that <span class="caps">MEP</span>s seem to discriminate against smaller EU countries.”</p>