French Pork-Barreling Keeps the European Parliament Inefficient

A blog about business and economics.
June 11 2013 7:53 AM

French Pork-Barreling Keeps the European Parliament Inefficient

Slovenian President Borut Pahor delivers a speech on June 11, 2013, at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France.
Slovenian President Borut Pahor delivers a speech on June 11, 2013, at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France.

Photo by Frederick Florin/AFP/Getty Images

From Brussels, I've just arrived in Strasbourg, following a migratory course that's common for Members of the European Parliament and their staff. You see, the treaties that govern the European Union fix the location of Parliament in Strasbourg, France—a symbolically potent city that's passed back and forth between France and Germany over the years.

But the efficient place for parliamentarians to do their work is in Brussels, where the other major EU institutions are located. So MEPs and their staffs do, in fact, spend most of their time in Brussels. That's where the party groups are headquartered, it's where the committees meet, and, generally speaking, it's where things happen. But since officially the parliament meets in Strasbourg, it comes here for 12 plenary sessions a year. And even though most of the parliamentary staffers one can talk to on the (rather long) Brussels–Strasbourg train seem to think they should do the sensible thing and just move the parliament wholesale to Brussels, the French won't stand for that kind of reform since it would cost Strasbourg a fair amount of revenue.

In and of itself, that kind of inefficiency isn't a very big deal. But it's a nice symbolic reminder that the institutional structure of the European Union remains rather clunky, and European politics in many ways remains quite parochial even as the single currency project has created more of a need for efficient decision-making. It's easy to get condescending about this, but that'd be a mistake—there's no precedent for the kind of very complicated, very deep international cooperation that the EU represents, so there's no basis for denying the fact that they do a very good job of it. But it means that the serious economic policy problems facing the continent are going to be extremely difficult to fix. As messy and "dysfunctional" as American political institutions sometimes look, they're a walk in the park compared with the overlapping veto points and supermajorities required for EU decision-making, and the continued strength of national allegiances only makes things harder.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Don’t Worry, Obama Isn’t Sending U.S. Troops to Fight ISIS

But the next president might. 

The Extraordinary Amicus Brief That Attempts to Explain the Wu-Tang Clan to the Supreme Court Justices

Amazon Is Officially a Gadget Company. Here Are Its Six New Devices.

The Human Need to Find Connections in Everything

It’s the source of creativity and delusions. It can harm us more than it helps us.

How Much Should You Loathe NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell?

Here are the facts.

Altered State

The Plight of the Pre-Legalization Marijuana Offender

What should happen to weed users and dealers busted before the stuff was legal?

Surprise! The Women Hired to Fix the NFL Think the NFL Is Just Great.

You Shouldn’t Spank Anyone but Your Consensual Sex Partner

Moneybox
Sept. 17 2014 5:10 PM The Most Awkward Scenario in Which a Man Can Hold a Door for a Woman
  News & Politics
Altered State
Sept. 17 2014 11:51 PM The Plight of the Pre-Legalization Marijuana Offender What should happen to weed users and dealers busted before the stuff was legal?
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 17 2014 1:36 PM Nate Silver Versus Princeton Professor: Who Has the Right Models?
  Life
Outward
Sept. 17 2014 6:53 PM LGBTQ Luminaries Honored With MacArthur “Genius” Fellowships
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 17 2014 6:14 PM Today in Gender Gaps: Biking
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 17 2014 9:37 AM Is Slate Too Liberal?  A members-only open thread.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 17 2014 8:25 PM A New Song and Music Video From Angel Olsen, Indie’s Next Big Thing
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 17 2014 9:00 PM Amazon Is Now a Gadget Company
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 17 2014 11:48 PM Spanking Is Great for Sex Which is why it’s grotesque for parenting.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 17 2014 3:51 PM NFL Jerk Watch: Roger Goodell How much should you loathe the pro football commissioner?