We do so much, why are we unknown and unloved?


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The Independent Online

Pity Britain's 73 MEPs. They have more opportunity to shape legislation than most backbench MPs at Westminster but remain unknown and unreported. A higher salary and a daily allowance are only partial compensation for being hardly acknowledged, even in the region they represent.

EU legislative initiatives (air quality, water, chemicals, fuel efficiency, information etc) have improved lives in a host of ways. All were once hotly debated in Brussels but rarely noticed here. British ministers, MEPs and civil servants may be fully engaged, but from our media it would be hard to guess that “Europe” has been an integral part of our lawmaking structure for decades.

The tabloid press may devote pages to condemning Brussels but it collectively employs not one journalist in that city. The broadsheets mostly limit their staffing to one writer. The BBC sends more people to a Liberal Democrat conference than it employs in Brussels. Claims it is going to “mainstream” Europe into its political coverage have yet to be proven.

Through ignorance or design, media outlets frequently refuse to recognise that MEPs can offer different political perspectives. For seven years my colleague Sir Graham Watson was leader of a group of more than 100 Liberal MEPs from 20 countries, yet this senior British politician was never once invited to appear on Question Time or Any Questions?.

In fairness, the EU legislative process does not facilitate media coverage. There is no government and opposition neatly arranged like rival football teams, one to win and the other certain to lose. There are plenty of votes on details but few on core principles. Final votes in the European Parliament often rubber-stamp an agreement that has long been negotiated by MEPs and already known.

It's a relatively grown-up way of doing business but rarely is it great theatre. Forty years on, we still haven't mastered how to explain it effectively.

Chris Davies is Liberal Democrat MEP for North West England