Guest post by Miranda Cox
The Final North West Visit to the EU
A small delegation from the anti-fracking campaign in Lancashire joined our Green Party MEP, Gina Dowding and representatives from other campaigns and research groups at the European Parliament in Brussels for two days.
This visit was partially sponsored by the European Parliament as part of its outreach and education programme. This enables groups to visit, network and understand a little more. Previous visits have included a delegation of young adults. Our delegation was the last one from the North West before the UK leaves the EU.
I can honestly say that I personally had only a rudimentary understanding of the EU before our Green representatives shared the daily workings of it via social media.
The fact they initially took their seats without a withdrawal date had meant that month-to-month, they have not really known how long they could be influential. Now that withdrawal date is fast approaching and final preparations are being implemented it was a particularly interesting time for us to visit.
We arrived late on Monday and returned on Wednesday. Our time in between was full of conversation and sharing ideas as well as discovering more about the European Parliament and issues around Brexit.
At the morning session with Molly Scott Cato MEP and Gina, delegates asked questions about the potential impacts of Brexit upon the UK electorate, pondered issues around our current electoral system, the divisiveness of our adversarial Government chambers and what could be done moving forward.
It is evident that the UK MEPs feel deeply troubled by what the UK will lose in terms of working partnerships, regulatory protection and influence.
Our future isolation concerns our European friends too, who were saddened and very sympathetic.
This session was followed by a highly entertaining and illuminating presentation on the workings of the European Parliament by one of the last British civil servants to be recruited.
The Workings of EU Parliament
My main takes from this were:
- The political parties form alliances based on shared beliefs and principles.
- The debates are negotiations and compromises are made rather than being adversarial arguments.
- 26 languages are spoken.
- The number of civil servants and interpreters employed is 55,000. This seems a lot but apparently the same number of civil servants are employed in Leeds alone.
- The main chamber “Hemicycle” is open, light, and arranged in a semi-circle unlike Westminster debating chambers.
- Voting takes place electronically and representatives are not able to filibuster (talk until time runs out) unlike in the UK Parliament.
- There are over 700 representatives and smaller nations are deliberately given more MEPs so they are not dominated by counties with larger populations.
Our visit to the parliament concluded with a smaller presentation by the Metropolitan University of Manchester who explained a little about hydrogen fuel.
At the end of the day, we were very fortunate to be included in the European Green Group’s New Year reception. This was full of youthful energy and hope for the future.
The following morning we met with Terri Reintke, a German MEP to discuss how we continue to maintain partnerships, exchanges and a level of communication after Brexit. We discussed cultural exchanges, friendship groups and information sharing.
Gina took us to her office, where I sadly noted the cardboard boxes ready to be packed. We briefly met Scott Ainslie a London MEP, who promised to take inspiration from us northern activists and we also saw reminders of the three-year campaign near Blackpool at Preston New Road in the Nana blanket hanging on the wall and campaign photos dotted across tables.
The End of an Era
What struck me as I walked around the parliament was that the energy was palpable. The architecture encouraged debate. There were lots of seating areas, open cafe spaces and meeting zones.
There was no sense of entitlement and the elected representatives were indistinguishable from visitors and staff. There appeared to be a real equitable nature.
Modern art nestled amongst photographs of leaders and everywhere there were views looking out to the world beyond the offices.
I personally felt very privileged to have been given this opportunity. I feel the enormity of the task ahead and therefore face the 31st of this month with trepidation.
I believe this country has slammed the door on a system it does not understand and will regret doing so. I believe we are depleted economically and culturally as a result and fear the coming isolation will cast us into deeper internal conflict, division and inequality.