Eurofile: EU voters set to make real impact

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The Independent Online
NEXT month's European elections will be the first in which voters will be casting their ballots as citizens of the European Union. They will be electing MEPs who now have the potential to make a real impact on legislation because the powers of the parliament have been considerably extended under the Maastricht treaty. Going by past experience, the turnout will be low and voting will focus on national issues and amount to a large-scale protest vote.

A discussion paper published today, Citizen's Europe? The European Elections and the Role of the European Parliament, by the Royal Institute of International Affairs, explains how the parliament now works and how its influence is growing. Julie Smith, the author, says the elections are increasingly important and the role of the parliament cannot be ignored as the powers of the Union grow and national legislatures lose influence.

BRITISH, French and Irish politicians and senior civil servants are the least accomplished linguists in the European Union. An analysis of the official EU languages found the Danes came top with more than 76 per cent speaking two or more languages other than their own, with the Dutch and Luxembourgers coming second and the Portuguese third. The French and British scored just 28 per cent and the Irish a deplorable 22 per cent. The poll, published in The European Companion, also shows that there has been little change in the number of women working at senior levels among Commission officials, MEPs and other Eurocrats. The figure is just 11 per cent.

Meanwhile, Brussels bureaucrats are to have lessons in how to spend the EU's multi-million pound aid budget. The University of Bradford is running courses for 200 EU officials responsible for developing aid projects in Eastern Europe and the Third World.

LAST YEAR, Manfred Brunner caused no end of a fuss with his court challenge to the Maastricht treaty - with the result that Germany found itself in the embarrassing position of ratifying the treaty even later than laggardly Britain. Once a prominent Eurocrat, Mr Brunner complained to the constitutional court that too much power was being removed from Germany's elected representatives. Now he has set up a League of Free Citizens, to continue the anti-EU campaign. It is interesting to note that on Mr Brunner's platform during the European election campaign is Jorg Haider, the Austrian extreme right-wing leader.

A GROWING number of migrants bound for Western Europe from the Middle East, Asia and Africa is settling temporarily in Eastern Europe and facing an uncertain future. 'With stricter immigration control in Western countries, hundreds of thousands find themselves in a holding pattern throughout the region,' said the International Organisation for Migration. Up to 140,000 migrants passed through the Czech Republic last year with an eye to slipping into Germany. Poland drew migrants fleeing economic hardship or persecution, people who view the country as a 'waiting-room' for further migration.

EUROPE risks being swamped by inventive criminals exploiting open national borders, in the view of senior British police officers. They complain that attitudes and police systems have altered little to cope with the greater freedom of movement in Europe and this is hindering the fight against crime. Assistant Commissioner David Veness, of London's Metropolitan Police, told an international conference of 130 police chiefs from Europe and North America yesterday that traditional criminal societies were exploiting a more open Europe with greater efficiency than governments.

Mr Vaness urged tax authorities, security agencies, intelligence services and governments to co-operate with 'lawful audacity' to combat organised crime.

EUROFILE is a new column on developments in European Union institutions and member countries which will appear on the international pages every Tuesday. From Friday, we are also introducing a regular column of news and analysis on Africa, Latin America and Asia by our specialist regional editors.