EC parliament seeks to involve public: Euro-MPs want to generate debate on economic problems and matters of 'common concern'

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The Independent Online
THE EUROPEAN Parliament wants to organise a public debate on Europe's economic problems. The idea is modelled on Bill Clinton's economic forum in Little Rock last year, which helped to crystallise a mood for change in the United States.

The move reflects the feeling of many parliamentarians that more must be done to involve the public on questions of policy that are largely decided behind closed doors by the Commission or the Council of Ministers. It also reflects their anger at the lack of progress in giving the Parliament a role in policy-making.

The idea is an initiative by John Stevens, Conservative member of the Parliament for Thames Valley, and has received support from the Socialists. It has already been adopted as a resolution by the Parliament, but the plan is to make it a bipartisan effort, with the support of all political groups. The Commission would be specifically excluded. Instead, it would group ordinary people from around the EC and allow them to put their case to politicians.

Though the impact on policy might be limited in the short term, the idea is to galvanise a sense of public involvement in the EC and influence the debate at the Brussels summit on Jacques Delors' new plan for economic renewal. 'It could establish the Parliament in the popular mind as the natural forum for debating the common concerns of Europe,' says a draft document. There is a perceived need among parliamentarians to find new ways in which the institution can be seen to represent people.

This is partly because at the moment the Parliament is often marginalised by the Commission and the Council of Ministers, to its members' exasperation. MEPs complained angrily yesterday that the EC summit in Copenhagen had failed to make any progress on unemployment, had ducked critical decisions on Bosnia and had not made enough progress on giving the Parliament more powers.

'Continuing to rearrange the deck- chairs on the Titanic is not enough,' said Glyn Ford, on behalf of the Group of European Socialists. 'The Copenhagen summit has failed Europe's needs.' He called for a special summit as soon as the Maastricht treaty was ratified to put new economic measures in place to improve on what was negotiated six months ago at the Edinburgh summit. 'The size of the Edinburgh package just does not measure up to the Community's crisis,' he added.

Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, the Danish Prime Minister, gave a glowing view of the summit's achievements, saying that 'we have now laid new foundations'. But there was an uncertain response to the plan put forward by Mr Delors for economic renewal. The Commission President himself was too ill to attend and the Commission's viewpoint was put by Hans van den Broek, Commissioner for external political affairs.

The Parliament is angry that no progress has been made on a deal with the Council and the Commission on the EC's budget. A proposal for an ombudsman to deal with complaints of maladministration, established as part of the Maastricht treaty, has also stalled. The treaty also failed to meet the Parliament's aspirations for greater power over the Commission.