Foreign Policy Blogs

Dear Congress: The European Parliament would like your attention.

Robert Nolan guest blogging from Strasbourg


Dear Congress.  The European Parliament would like your attention.

And they’d like you to visit too.  I say take them up on it.  Strasbourg is a lovely city.  Just ask Joe Biden or even President Obama, who have both visited here over the past year.

Yes,  I know you’ve got your upcoming reelection to worry about and may not own a passport.  Even if you do, I realize that discussion of seemingly arcane and most certainly complicated trade law and the like may not be your cup of tea.  It sure isn’t mine.

And Nancy Pelosi’s desired cuts to your travel budgets will also make it more difficult to indulge in the spectacular regional cuisine and lovely canals.

But you (and your constituents) will be missing out on a lot more than choucroute and wines of Alsace if you don’t start taking the European Parliament more seriously.  Under the new Lisbon Treaty, which governs the EU, the only elected body of the European Union  has significantly more say in the way Europe is run than it used to.

Once little more than a very, very expensive chat room whose decisions were non-binding, the Parliament under Lisbon has greater “co-decision” making powers regarding legislation alongside the heavyweight European Council and Commission, and has already begun to flex its muscles.  It also has more control over EU budgets.

One needs only look at the recent U.S. request for banking data under the SWIFT act meant to counter terrorism (they said no) to realize the need for greater U.S. engagement.

Furthermore, you don’t have to speak French, German or any of the other 23 official EU languages (except English) to discuss important  issues on the agenda – from trade and economy under the Transatlantic Economic Council (TEP) that will certainly impact U.S. companies doing business in Europe, to regional energy concerns.  Just ask President Obama’s Special Envoy for Eurasian Energy Richard Morningstar, who visited here last week.

Alas, if you can’t make it to Strasbourg, don’t lament.  The next meeting of U.S. legislators with the European Parliamentary Delegation for the U.S. is next month in Madrid, Spain.  Barring your ability to make it, many parliamentarians are willing to meet via video conference call.  While you will certainly miss out on many fine European specialties, you won’t need a passport for that.



Robert Nolan
Robert Nolan

Robert Nolan is Editor-in-Chief of New Media at the Foreign Policy Association and a writer and producer of the Great Decisions Television Series on PBS. A former Peace Corps volunteer in Zimbabwe and graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, he has interviewed numerous heads of state, Nobel Prize winners, artists and musicians, and policymakers.

Great Decisions Discussion group