Thursday, May 20, 2004

Furthering European unity

Following in the wake of such luminaries as Ted Heath, former French president Valery Giscard d’Estaing and Tony Blair, European parliament president Pat Cox today received Charlemagne Prize for his services to "European unity" taking with him the "symbolic" 5,000 euro cash award.

The prize committee said Cox won the award "as recognition of the pioneering role played by the European Parliament in a critical phase in the development of Europe and also of his outstanding personal contribution in bringing about the enlargement of the Union".

This is the first time an EP president in office has been awarded a prize, and is perhaps a recognition of the role of the parliament in the integration process. It should serve as a reminder that, while this institution is effectively toothless in the traditional role of a parliament – controlling the executive – it is in fact a powerful driving force in the pursuit of European political integration.

That has been very much the case since 1979 when Alterio Spinelli was elected as an MEP in the first direct elections to the European parliament. He went on to set up what has become the EP’s constitutional affairs committee, and masterminded the production of the Draft Treat of the European Union in 1984. This served as the basis for the Single European Act and the Maastricht Treaty and elements of it are to be found in the current draft constitution.

Cox’s prize, therefore, should have special relevance for the coming Euro-elections – although few will understand the significance. The elections, portrayed as an opportunity for the "citizens" of Europe to elect their representatives, are actually a mechanism for salaried integrationalists to renew their season tickets on the gravy train, and advance the cause of the European "project".

Furthering the cause of European integration is, in fact, the true – if unspoken - role of the European parliament, and Cox’s Charlemagne prize is a timely reminder of that role.

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