Europe's teenagers throw a tantrum: The Strasbourg parliament, long dismissed as a talking shop, is starting to find ways of exerting real authority

YOU KNOW how 15-year-olds are. Neither one thing nor the other, full of moody turns and sudden quirks, on the brink of adulthood but still looking back to childhood. That is a fair anaogy for the European Parliament, which celebrated 15 years of direct elections with a threat to cause a political and constitutional crisis by kicking out Jacques Santer, the new President of the European Commission.

On Thursday morning, Mr Santer and his minder, Klaus Kinkel, the German Foreign Minister, looked the assembly full in the face and asked it what it was rebelling against. And the European Parliament stared back between half-closed eyes, shrugged its shoulders, and asked: What have you got?

The rebel without a cause has not yet come of age, but it is well into adolescence, feistily saying no when it can and starting to get its own way, though unsure of what that is. There is everything to look forward to over the parliament's five-year term: it is emerging as a real place of power and influence.

Often over-verbose, given to 'serial junketing', absenteeism, silly national political games that achieve little, and incomprehensible inter-party jousting, it attracts little interest from the outside world or even the other European institutions.

'We ignore 98 per cent of what they do,' said one official of the European Commission recently. 'They are second-rate people doing third-rate work.'

But on Thursday, as the parliament moved to a vote on Mr Santer, a knot of concerned and important faces could be seen on the television monitors that show the assembly floor.

There was Jacques Delors, the outgoing president; David Williamson, the commission's secretary-general; Sir John Kerr, the British Ambassador, who had flown down at the suggestion of his staff, for what looked like an emergency; the Luxembourg ambassador and Mr Santer, with Mr Kinkel.

There was Pauline Green, a former policewoman, now MEP for London North and head of the Socialist Group, delivering a stern rebuke to the Council of Ministers, the most powerful body in the European Union. And Mr Kinkel, a man you would not care to meet in a sunlit plaza, let alone a dark Strasbourg alley, was flinching before her whiplash rhetoric.

Mrs Green later told BBC radio: 'We have given everybody a bit of a scare, because for too long the parliament has been a rubber stamp. They can no longer take that rubber stamp for granted.'

The mechanism that the parliament is using to win influence is threatening to upset choices made by the Council of Ministers, such as that of Mr Santer, or a telecommunications bill killed off on Tuesday. Mrs Green meant to talk about a crisis of confidence on Thursday; but she ended up referring, twice, to a 'confidence of crisis', which sums up the parliament's attitude and the state of affairs in the EU.

In the process, the European assembly is emerging as something closer to the US Congress than the British Parliament. It is a check on the power of the commission and the Council of Ministers, if still an ineffective one.

Over the next year, under the leadership of the new parliament president, Klaus Hansch, it will push its powers to the brink. What it lacks, however, is a sense that it has its own agenda, a programme to achieve.

But an agenda is emerging. First and foremost, the parliament is a lobby for institutional reform, to achieve new powers for itself and the Union. At the moment it can call spirits from the deep, but they do not come, because the sections of the Maastricht treaty that deal with spirit-calling give the assembly few powers. In 1996, when EU leaders gather to rewrite that wretched document, it is likely the parliament will gain influence, perhaps decisively.

The second area where the parliament wants to make its mark is employment. With a centre-right Christian Democrat at the commission and a powerful left-wing bloc in the parliament, there clashes are likely over the prevailing mood that deregulation, rather than new spending, is the way to reduce the dole queues.

Mrs Green and the Socialists have created a committee to sketch out new possibilities for increasing jobs, and will make their own report to the Essen summit in December.

The third area is foreign affairs, where the parliament is starting to blaze a trail. It is a wobbly path at the moment, more or less on the lines of liberal internationalist.

If you think the parliament does not matter, head down to Strasbourg sometime and see the lobbyists handing out chocolate from the Ivory Coast, watch the Taiwanese journalists anxiously scrutinising emergency motions, British diplomats agonising over blocked aid for Syria, the Central Europeans investigating why the parliament has blocked funds for assistance programmes.

One of the biggest running battles is over the funding of the EU's common foreign and security policy, which may yet derail its overseas actions. Not for nothing did newly arrived Labour MEP Glenys Kinnock choose the parliament's Committee for Relations with the Third World as a place to make her mark.

What the parliament still seems to lack is a sense of legitimacy. The election turnouts were very low this year, even in such countries as the Netherlands, whose people have a keen sense of the importance of democracy in Europe.

The attempt to block Mr Santer was derailed by heavy lobbying from governments in Spain, Greece, Portugal and Denmark, showing that the transnational parties are still something of a fiction.

Party discipline is still quixotic. But when the teenage parliament threatened to chuck out Mr Santer - probably no more popular in Stafford or Saarbrucken than Strasbourg - it made a start.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
News
Happy in his hat: Pharrell Williams
people
Arts and Entertainment
Stella Gibson is getting closer to catching her killer
tvReview: It's gripping edge-of-the-seat drama, so a curveball can be forgiven at such a late stage
News
Brazilian football legend Pele pictured in 2011
peopleFans had feared the worst when it was announced the Brazil legand was in a 'special care' unit
News
i100(More than you think)
News
Phyllis Dorothy James on stage during a reading of her book 'Death Comes to Pemberley' last year
peopleJohn Walsh pays tribute to PD James, who died today
News
peopleExclusive: Maryum and Hana Ali share their stories of the family man behind the boxing gloves
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Commercial / Residential Property - Surrey

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: SURREY MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Programme - Online Location Services Business

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: What do you want to do with your career? Do yo...

Recruitment Genius: Senior QC Scientist

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company is a leading expert in immunoassa...

Recruitment Genius: Development Scientist

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Development Scientist is required to join a ...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game