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Next weekend, European citizens will go to the polls to elect Members of the European Parliament.
This economic crisis revealed an embarrassing truth: Euro-citizens know very little about the EU and how it works. Even I knew very little about it, but since I wanted to understand why the European Union takes such unfathomable Foreign Policy positions, I set myself out to study it more.
First, I learned the EU has Founding Fathers (Konrad Adenauer, Joseph Bech, Johan Willem Beyen, Winston Churchill, Alcide de Gasperi, Walter Hallstein, Sicco Manshott, Jean Monnet, Robert Schuman, Paul-Henri Spaak and Altiero Spinelli); then I learned that if Europe is united is because Germany, France, Italy, Luxembourg, Belgium and the Netherlands had a dream (of Prosperity & Peace). But we are not going to discuss that for now.
As Euro-voters we need to know the basics about the European Union and how it functions, so that we are fully conscious of what we are doing when we cast our votes. Therefore, we primarily need to know that the EU is administered by three basic bodies:
1. The European Commission: the executive body responsible for the proposing and implementing EU laws, monitoring the treaties and the day-to-day running of the EU (as per Article 17 of the TEU).
2. The European Parliament: the only directly elected EU body. It represents the EU's 500 million inhabitants and it plays a key role in electing the President of the European Commission. It shares power over EU budget and legislation with the Council of the EU (as per Article 14 of the TEU).
3. Council of the European Union: a body composed by government ministers of member states who share budgetary and legislative power with the European Parliament (as per Article 16 of the TEU).
If we look at the three above structures of the EU, it should be easy to realise the importance of electing the proper MEPs. Furthermore, by voting in the European Parliament elections, we (as euro-citizens) have the chance to shape a politically harmonious team to serve our interests in Brussels.
Building a politically harmonious European team involves a bit of calculation and for that all we need to do is to picture the European Union as a family. Visualise your family with all the complexities of the coexistence between its members - when you need to forge alliances to achieve a certain goal, which relatives do you select to form your group? This formula is applicable to politics.
The council of the EU is composed of government ministers: is your government behaving or misbehaving (do try to make a cold analysis of the facts)? If it is being successful then you need to elect MEPs more or less from the same ideology (for instance, Portugal has 22 seats in the European Parliament; since our government successfully took us out of the economic mess we were in, it is convenient that the majority of those seats be filled with right wingers for two reasons: 1- they will be able to continue the mandate of the Portuguese people at European level; 2- in case this present government loses the 2015 elections, the MEPs will be able to balance the socialist lack of vision for Portugal and for the Portuguese, at European level); if your government is misbehaving (like the French one) then you definitely need to elect MEPs from a different ideology, to keep the council on their tip toes.
The European Commission is composed by 28 commissioners representing each member state. Those commissioners are proposed by the council (i.e. the government ministers of each member state) and then elected by the Euro-Parliament (that you elect directly). If there is a lack of harmony between your country's representatives at the council and the parliament, the election of the commissioners and the president of the commission will be made difficult and in the end the result may not reflect the best choice for you (since the commission is the body that proposes EU laws to be passed by both the Parliament and the Council).
In sum, when you go to the ballots, next Sunday, be conscious of the responsibility your vote bears. Set your emotions, your partisanship, aside and make the proper calculations. Don't be automatic: don't just vote for the sake of voting.
We want to change the European Union to be more effective for the people, and the first step towards that direction is to cast a responsible vote.
The future of Europe is in your hands.