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The New Local Government Network unveiled a series of measures to shake-up the European Parliament and make it more accountable to citizens.
It is calling for changes in the way that MEPs are elected and for reform of the Council of Regions (CoR). It also argues that councils should do more to integrate themselves within the European Parliament by making better use of existing representation offices based in Brussels and liaising more with MEPs.
Reform of the Council of Regions would involve changing the way members are appointed and removing the role of DCLG and the LGA in this process. Instead, members of the CoR should constitute Leaders of Councils elected by councillors from the UK’s 12 administrative regions. The CoR should also become a second chamber to the European Parliament and be permanently based in Strasbourg, enabling it to scrutinise legislation from the Parliament.
The report, Local Voices, European Accountability: Local democracy and the European parliament also calls for the return of single member constituencies for the European Parliament, arguing that the ‘party list’ system has disconnected voters from MEPs. It argues that re-aligning European representatives to local authority based seats would clarify geographical attachment and give local citizens a stronger voice in the Parliament. The report argues that the current regional-list experiment has undermined the local accountability of MEPs and diminished their connection with local and sub-regional communities.
The report also calls on more councils to develop links with the European Parliament. Author Matthew Clifton argues:
“for many councillors it comes as a surprise that UK local government works at the international level. The argument for engagement with Europe has yet to win the hearts and minds of elected members up and down the country”.
He outlines six significant factors that have traditionally restricted this relationship:
- Reduction in the amount of regional development and social funds going to the UK has reduced some council’s priority towards Europe.
- The macro responsibility for EU funds largely still lies with central government or quangos.
- The balance of political control has changed so that more councils adopt a more eurosceptic outlook.
- The CoR does not bridge the gulf between local and European government.
- The Government’s new Regional Ministers have not yet developed as a link between local areas and European institutions.
- Members of the European Parliament remain distant from their constituents.
“By common consent, the institutions of the EU seem distant and their workings opaque. What they do is obscured by institutional complexity and tabloid controversy. Yet a whole range of local government activities is affected by policies decided through Europe. To maximize its influence, local government needs to engage early and often with the Brussels-based decision-makers and mandarins”.