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The nerds in Brussels - Peter Agius

What does it take to be an MEP? Getting elected. True, that is a main part of it. And, yet, the mission of bringing anything home starts right on the day after election.

Having worked with MEPs from the negotiating table in Brussels and Strasbourg to the podiums of meetings or press conferences in Victoria and Valletta, I dare hereby share a few lessons learnt of what it takes to be an MEP.

I mean, a good one.

A starting caveat is in order. This is by no means an impartial account, given that I have just submitted my nomination to be one of the Nationalist Party candidates for the upcoming European elections.

That said, I will try to sustain my argument with context.

Before judging what it takes to be a good MEP, let us first define the deliverables we expect from one.

To my mind, the Maltese people should expect their MEPs to represent them in the European Union’s powerful legislative body by acting in good time to adapt European legislation to Maltese needs.

The above formula groups a few requirements that merit dissection.

First of all, for an MEP to be able to have any bearing at all on our life in Malta, s/he must be able to localise the local interest in European proposals.

Once an important interest is identified, all MEPs would be keen on championing a Maltese cause in Brussels

This is by no means an easy feat. Suffice to say that on an average year the European Commission presents up to 80 key legislative or politically-relevant proposals for the scrutiny and decision of the European Parliament. We are speaking here of some serious reading, with proposals running into hundreds of pages multiplied to the power of 1- with MEPs amendments at committee stage.

Having led an effort myself at the European Parliament office in Malta to empower stakeholders to intervene in good time on European legislation, I can attest this is often an uphill struggle in a context where local organisations need to spread their efforts on several fronts and are normally far too busy to focus on lobbying local government for the next budget or an upcoming implementing measure to be able to dedicate enough resources to scout the horizon for what is one or two years ahead.

To make up for that, being a Maltese MEP, therefore, requires an investment in doing that exercise at least in part for and with the stakeholders themselves.

Once an important interest is identified, all MEPs would be keen on championing a Maltese cause in Brussels.

The challenge then is doing this efficiently. For any amendment proposed by a Maltese MEP to pass through, s/he will have to swing a majority of Committee members in favour of the Maltese interest.

This requires industry, tact and intensive lobbying with the other MEPs.

Picture scratch-my-back-and-I-scratch-yours a la Maltija but amplified to a multinational and multicultural setting with 30 or 40 MEPs (Committees are small numbers, at least) spanning a continent of backgrounds and interests of their own.

Once an amendment is secured in the specific Committee and plenary the game is only half won given that the Union’s machinery requires decisions to be made by the European Parliament together with the Council of Ministers.

The ‘Maltese idea’ in the Parliament’s text needs therefore to be defended with the ministers, hopefully, with some parallel help from the delegation behind the George Cross flag.

The whole business, therefore, goes well beyond posing for Instagram or Facebook (of which I shall be doing a lot).

More than a reality show, it is much more like a desk-bound job with six or more meetings on an average day and dossiers to study at night.

But don’t feel sorry for them. The nerds in Brussels actually relish the part.

Being a nerd, maybe that is what it takes to be an MEP. Hopefully, a sociable nerd.

A very sociable nerd given that one needs to get elected… and we’re back to square one.

Peter Agius is a prospective MEP candidate for the Nationalist Party.

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