In order to raise awareness of the upcoming elections and help European citizens make an informed decision, OneEurope will publish a series of interviews with MEPs and candidate MEPs, presenting their experiences, views, policies and future plans. The next interviews will be published in our debate on the European Elections 2014 in the coming days.
OneEurope: Mrs Lambert, you are a highly experienced politician and have served as an MEP since 1999. What motivated you to become an MEP?
Jean Lambert MEP: I became an MEP because I believe we face global problems that cannot be solved at a national level and I wanted to be part of an international movement for positive change. The European Union has increasing power and I want to try and shape that. In the past I studied modern languages, had been involved with the European Green parties for many years and campaigned to change the electoral system, so when the chance to run as a candidate for the European Parliament came I grabbed it!
OE: Many people feel disconnected from the European Union and have little if any idea of what an MEP actually does. What does a day in the life of Jean Lambert MEP look like?
JL: Well there is no 'normal' day in this job, every day is different (part of what makes it so interesting!). The European Parliament typically meets for three weeks of every four in Brussels for committee and political group meetings. One week in every four, the Parliament moves to Strasbourg where MEPs vote on the legislative work carried out in Brussels – this is known as a plenary session. During a Parliamentary year, four weeks are dedicated to allowing MEPs to concentrate on their constituency work. Therefore depending on the week I could be in Brussels, working with my political group on our positions on various pieces of proposed legislation, or I could be working in one of my Committees inputting to the content of proposed legislation or I could be in Strasbourg amending and voting on legislation. As well as these meetings I will meet with interest groups and individuals who may have a point to make about proposed legislation. I might also have visitors from my constituency coming to see the Parliament, will speak at a number of civil society meetings, meet human rights defenders and I will generally have a few interviews with journalists.
I should also mention here that for the last 5 years I have been the Chair of the European Parliament's Delegation to South Asia and so have had a 2/3 trips a year to that region and the countries in that Delegation trying to build better ties between the EU and those countries and to promote the EU's values on human rights and democracy and discuss climate change.
The weeks I'm in my constituency of London I try to visit projects and groups that are working on issues close to my heart, such as making London a more equal and fair city, that welcomes people from all over the EU and the world. I also try and make the connection between the work I do in Brussels and London, how legislation or funding or examples of good practice from other EU countries can make a positive impact on London.
OE: What have been your key successes in your work as an MEP?
JL: In general terms I am proud to be part of a political group that has gone from strength to strength and whose message and work for equality, tolerance, environmental-protection and social justice has got louder and made a real impact on the legislation coming out of Brussels. I have been a strong advocate for social Europe and have helped to push the ‘green skills’ agenda in the EU.
More specifically the pieces of legislation I led on and saw through from proposal to law have been really satisfying (A full list of all Jean's Parliamentary activities can be found here. In terms of facilitating EU citizens rights to free movement, I authored a report in 2009 relating to the revision of the co-ordination of social security systems, so that in cross-border situations EU nationals will also receive a minimum level of social security protection from their host country, which was very significant, and I have also been responsible for some improvements in asylum law. However being able to contribute to the EU, a project that has brought great stability to Europe and more coherent responses to problems that cannot be solved at national level, such as climate change and migration is also very gratifying.
OE: What will your top five priorities be if you get re-elected?
JL: A difficult choice to make! Firstly, to maintain pressure for the shift to a low-carbon economy to meet the challenge of climate change – we have to involve the workforce in making change and still have work to do on relevant skills development. Secondly, to ensure the involvement of civil society in the annual Semester process. We shall be looking at a further revision of social security co-ordination and I want to defend and extend what we have – not curtail rights. I want to spend more time on the issue of guaranteeing sexual health reproductive rights, currently under attack. Finally, I have every intention of maintaining my strong commitment to anti-discrimination and equal treatment: the next Parliament will need such voices.
OE: At OneEurope we are very keen to promote youth engagement in EU affairs and politics. Unfortunately youth absenteeism in European Parliament elections is worryingly high and many young people feel that politicians fail to recognise and address the issues that matter most to them. How do you engage with young people in your work as an MEP? Will you seek in your electoral campaign to encourage more young people to vote in the European Parliament Elections?
JL: As a former schoolteacher, working with young people is something I have always enjoyed and actively encouraging them to engage in politics and elections is something I believe to be crucial to a healthy democracy.
In the UK I work closely with the Young Greens, the youth branch of our party and was present at the Youth Manifesto launch this week, which called for greater participation of young people in decision making. I have also collaborated with the British Youth Council on many projects, most recently I supported one which sought to highlight the importance of voting to young people. I regularly host school groups from my constituency of London in the European Parliament so they can see how it works and why it's relevant to their lives and I also regularly collaborate with the European Youth Forum. This is a Brussels-based NGO which represents a huge number of youth organisations from across the EU and advocates on their behalf on a range of different issues.
The type of Europe we want to live in and the laws coming from Brussels that will impact the lives of young and old and all in between can be shaped by people voting in the elections. Making that connection for young people between voting in the Euro elections and the type of future and choices they would like to have is something I have always sought to do and will continue to do, regardless of the outcome of this election
OE: What communication platforms do you use to engage with your constituents? Do you find social media an effective tool to increase engagement of citizens in EU affairs?
JL: I try to use a mix of traditional tools, such as paper newsletters delivered to people's houses and I produce many flyers on particular issues I'm working on and how the EU is playing a role in those issues (e.g. air quality, employment rights and so on). I also host a number of events every year in London on a range of topics where I try to make the connection between the EU and London, how each can feed into the other for the benefit of both.
Increasingly, however social media platforms are being employed to reach out to constituents. Therefore I have a very active Facebook page which is constantly updated, I have my webpage, I tweet a lot (@GreenJeanMEP) and I also produce a monthly e-newsletter. I think social media is hugely effective in terms of trying to engage people in EU affairs, the challenge however is trying to reach those who may, at this moment in time, feel very disconnected from EU affairs. Through social media one finds communities interested in similar things and engages those communities who thus far may not be interested or aware of EU affairs. This is vitally important for all politicians and organisations involved in the EU and its development and democratic accountability.
OE: It might seem self-evident for some, but given the ever decreasing voter turnout it is worth asking: why vote in the upcoming European Parliament elections? Do the European Parliament elections really matter?
JL: Yes! They really do matter! Decreasing voter turnout is not a sign that the EU doesn't matter, it is rather a sign that people do not see the significance of the European Union and the impact it has on their lives has not been properly communicated. The fact is that a large proportion of laws governing our lives in London, Athens, Lisbon, Sofia and so on do originate in Brussels. This however is not a bad or scary thing as other political parties may have you believe however. It is a potentially a really positive thing as in globalised world we are far more more powerful negotiating on issues such as trade, the environment, human rights if we speak in a coherent voice as a large, influential bloc. And through the European Parliament EU citizens get to have a real say in how the EU legislates for each of us as the European Parliament is heavily implicated in the formation of EU laws.
However only sensible, useful laws can be made by sensible, useful politicians and that is why it is of the utmost importance that we vote in these European Parliament elections on 22nd May. We must furthermore, make sure that when doing so we think clearly about the implications of our choices and the subsequent types of laws, and the values they reflect, that we may see coming from Brussels as a result of our votes.