It has probably landed on your doormat by now; the letter that invites all European citizens to vote for the European Parliament elections, sometime between May 22 and May 25, 2014. It tells you where to find the closest polling station, at what time you can vote and, of course, not to forget your ID. Fair enough, but why would we vote in the first place?

WHAT THEY DO is a blog. This coming month, up to May 22, we publish an illustration every other day. Each illustration highlights a specific decision, made by the European Parliament. This way, WHAT THEY DO aims to show in what way the European Parliament plays a role in our daily lives and what it means to vote this coming May.

We hope you enjoy the blog!





Citizenship is not for sale

European countries selling passports to rich non-Europeans for big money; that’s not right! On January 16, 2014, the European Parliament adopted a non-binding resolution that denounces Malta and several other member states for offering citizenship in exchange for generous investments in their countries.

As national citizenship is also a European matter, the European Parliament does not allow Malta to take this decision on its own. You see, having national citizenship of a Member State automatically grants you European citizenship as well. This has been agreed upon in the Treaty of Amsterdam of 1992.

In practice, European citizenship means a collection of political and civil rights, recorded in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union of 2000.  Citizens of Europe enjoy, among others, the rights to free movement, the right to diplomatic protection and the right to vote.

Will you vote today?




Citizens’ data protection

Anxiety about intercepted phone calls and personal data scattered around the World Wide Web, has also emerged in Europe. On March 12, 2014, the European Parliament voted in favor of new legislation that should better protect European citizens’ privacy. Still, the Council of Europe has the final word in approval of the rules.

Whereas each EU country used to have its own laws, the new Data Protection Regulation will apply throughout Europe. Better inspections of and insight into the road along which our data travels, that’s the motto. With regard to their European affairs, non-European governments and companies – such as Facebook and Google – have to stick to these rules as well.

However, the Regulation has turned out less strict than the original proposal by the European Commission. A strong lobby by telecom and internet companies made sure that it will remain possible to store and use citizen’s data for advertisement purposes, and to sell data to third parties.


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Reducing carbon emission of cars

On February 25, 2014, the European Parliament voted in new rules that will reduce carbon emissions of newly produced cars from 130g/km to 95g/km by 2020. Automobile manufacturers must therefore install fuel-saving technologies in these cars.

Carbon emission is an important cause of climate change. Therefore, this decision by the EP is a positive step towards a cleaner world. However, the regulation is anything but ambitious. Due to the automobile industry’s strong lobby, the new rules are very mild. Attaining the new standards will thus be a piece of cake for these companies.


Equality between men and women

What’s in between your legs determines to a great extent your chance to get a job, the possibility to obtain a top function within the company, as well as the number of figures on your pay check. Even today, women in Europe are more often – and longer – unemployed than men. Moreover, women hold fewer leadership positions and earn, on average, 14.5% less than men.

On December 20, 2006, the Parliament adopted rules that aims to stimulate gender equality in the EU. As a result, on that exact same day and with support of the Parliament, the European Institute for Gender Equality was established.

The Institute conducts research into gender equality within both European Union policy and national legislation. It provides policymakers with advice, and aims to raise awareness for this topic amongst European citizens.


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Protection of taxpayers

It all started when Cyprus was saved. During the summer of 2013, Cypriot banks were about to collapse. In order to save the island, the government received financial assistance from European emergency fund ESM. However, the account holders, from several countries, had to chip in as well.

On April 15, 2014, the European Parliament approved a combination of measures that have to limit  taxpayers’ responsibility for the costs of collapsing banks. In the future, banks will be obliged to pay back savers an amount of up to €100.000, offering increased protection to the ordinary citizen.




Protecting children against online porn

To a child who has decided to give a presentation in class about pussycats, websites like pussycat.com and hairykitten.com sound like the perfect place to start. Unfortunately, these websites do not provide any useful information on cute meowing pets – instead, they show porn.

To protect children against online pussycat porn, the European Parliament decided to implement the Safer Internet Programme on October 22, 2008. It led to the establishment of a European network of national centers, which offer children, parents and teachers a helpline and inform them about the dangers of the Internet.






What is an electric bicycle?

An electric bicycle with a maximum speed of 50 kilometers per hour; is that still a bike or rather a scooter? Members of the European Parliament have been investigating this question since 2011.

While the Parliament initially did not consider the rise of these cycling speedsters to be problematic, on November 20, 2012, it decided not to raise the allowed capacity of electric bicycles from 250 to 500 watt. Just imagine: an elderly citizen cycling around town with the speed of cyclist Eddy Merckx, that would be rather risky!




Stricter rules for tobacco

The past year, Members of the European Parliament found bags full of tobacco in their mailboxes. The tobacco lobby has spared neither cost nor effort to prevent the European Parliament from agreeing to stricter rules concerning cigarettes.

However, on October 8, 2013, the European Parliament did accept the Commission’s proposal to ban flavored cigarettes, as well as attractive packaging for tobacco products. It needs to be clear that cigarettes are bad for you, so they say in Strasbourg.



Combatting violence against women

In Europe:

  •   one in twenty women have been raped;
  •   one third of all women have been victim of physical or sexual violence;
  •   more than half of all women have experienced sexual intimidation;
  •   almost one in five women have been stalked.

The European Parliament aims to combat gender-based violence.  According to the resolution of February 25, 2014, European member states need to take measures to reduce violence against women. Through education and awareness campaigns, members of parliament hope to make women more conscious of their rights and make men more aware of the (physical and psychological) equality of the opposite sex.



Protection of European regional products

Prosciutto di Parma is not just ham from Parma. Parma ham is not officially Parma ham until the European Union has labelled it as Parma ham. It is a European regional product that has to meet specific requirements, just like Feta cheese and Champagne. The rule from 2006 aims to warrant the quality of these products, as well as to stimulate traditional agriculture.

On November 21, 2012, the European Parliament expanded this regulation. For instance, a quality label was introduced for culinary goods that are produced in Europe’s mountainous areas.

It remains to be seen whether these quality labels will not be used to mislead the consumer. Farmers in the Champagne region, for example, intend to plough up bad soil and use it as Champagne vineyards. Whether they contain nectar of the gods or a worthless liquid; as long as the bottles are labeled Champagne, they’ll sell.



European Asylum System

Asylum seekers who enter Europe cannot simply decide to live wherever they like. The Central European Asylum System decides in which European country they will end up. In addition, the system should make sure that asylum seekers are treated equally in all European countries.

On June 9, 2013, the European Parliament approved the Asylum System, after negotiating for more than ten years with the European Commission and the ministers of all European countries. It took this long because the countries prefer to decide for themselves who enters their territory. In fact, the System leaves the national governments with a lot of freedom of interpretation for how to deal with asylum seekers.

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The health of bees

“If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe, then man would have only four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man.” If we are to believe these words by Albert Einstein, then we will all be dead in four years from now. As it happens, the honeybee is not doing very well.

One third of the world’s food production is dependent on the pollination of animals. Aiming to better protect the honeybee, the European Parliament announced, on November 15, 2011, that more research should be conducted on these busy little workers.

Herbicides containing neonicotinoids, which are used in agriculture, turned out to be a major killer of bees. The agrochemical sector lobbied aggressively to keep using these herbicides. However, on May 24, 2013, the European Commission decided to prohibit, in the cultivation of those crops that bees find attractive, the use of the three most poisonous types of neonicotinoids.