A Parliament without transparency has no accountability
Author: Peter Facey
Published on Feb 18, 2013
On the 8th of February EU leaders agreed for the first time ever to cut the overall EU Budget for the period from 2014 to 2020. Hidden in the middle of triumphant newspaper headlines were the cries of horror from the leaders of the four big groups in the European Parliament.
They pledged to vote against the budget arguing that the total budget of the EU comes to around 1% of Europe’s GDP. Some leading members of the European Parliament are worried that MEPs will come under pressure from their national parties and governments to vote against the budget. In response, the President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz is talking about using a little used procedure whereby a vote in the parliament can be conducted by a secret ballot if requested by a 5th of MEPs.
There are legitimate arguments about whether the EU’s budget should be cut or increased at a time of economic recession. Such a debate is healthy in a democracy. And there is nothing wrong with a parliament showing some independence. In the UK we suffer from the fact that that our parliament is far too often subservient to the government. The European Parliament is there for a reason - specifically to ensure that a wider range of voices are represented at an EU-level than those provided by the national leaders.
We use secret ballots in elections to ensure that voters cannot be intimidated into voting in a certain way but voters need to know which way their elected parliamentarians vote in order to hold them to account. Secret ballots in parliaments have their place - the House of Commons appoints members of select committees by secret ballot for example, to ensure they are more independent of the party whips. But it is hard to see how they can possibly be justified to draw a veil over a parliament’s vote on a substantive policy issue.
If MEPs believe that they are serving the constituents by voting against the budget they should do so proudly and openly and not hide in the shadows. The European Parliament taking a vote on something as important as the EU budget would send the message that they were not only scared of national governments but also scared of the European voters they people who they are there to serve.