Page last updated at 09:48 GMT, Tuesday, 13 January 2009

My week as an MEP - My aims

Brian Wheeler
BBC political reporter Brian Wheeler is spending the week living the life of a Member of the European Parliament. Here he explains what his hopes are for the week:

It is the assignment every reporter dreams of - an all expenses paid week in Strasbourg, the junket capital of Europe. Join me as I sip vintage champagne, dine in the finest restaurants the Alsace region of France has to offer, embark on pointless "fact-finding" missions to exotic locations, travelling first class, of course - and all at your expense.

Of course it's not really like that. But mention Europe or the European Parliament and that is the image that comes to many people's mind in Britain. And who is to say there is not some truth in it?

The fact is, beyond those people who are paid to cover it, few people in Britain really know what goes on in Brussels and Strasbourg.

There are 78 British Euro MPs but most people would be hard-pressed to name one of them, with the possible exception of Robert Kilroy-Silk, let alone the ones that are paid to represent them, in their region.

Most of the time people only tend to take notice of the European Parliament when there is an election on, as in June this year, or when a British MEPs is embroiled in a financial scandal, or when there is a story about crazy Eurocrats and their silly rules - the "straight banana" syndrome as exasperated MEPs call it.

EUROPE BASICS
The European Parliament amends, approves or rejects EU laws, together with the Council of Ministers.
The process of "co-decision" - by which a law is only passed when approved by both bodies - applies in areas including consumer protection, the single market, workers' rights, asylum and immigration, the environment and animal welfare, but not foreign policy or agriculture.
The parliament also shares authority over the EU budget with the Council of Ministers and supervises other EU institutions, including the Commission. It vets new commissioners, and can sack the commission en masse.

Is this lack of attention because the day-to-day workings of the European Parliament are too complicated or because the parliament and its members have no power? Whatever the reason, few could really say they know what these well-paid elected representatives actually do.

As a Westminster-based reporter, I am as guilty as the next person of knowing little about how these Euro MPs spend their time. But all that is about to change.

This week I am going to live like a British MEP. I will travel with them, dine with them, watch them at work and play and, hopefully find out a little bit more about what makes them tick.

The plan is to spend time with MEPs from each of the British parties represented in the Strasbourg Parliament. That's Labour, the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats, the UK Independence Party, the SNP, the Greens, Plaid Cymru and Sinn Fein.

The MEPs themselves will, no doubt, be on their best behaviour, going out of their way to show how hard-working and diligent they are - and how unlike the popular stereotype. I do not expect to uncover any major scandals.

But, as an outsider to the European political scene, I do want to try and get under their skin and ask the questions they would not normally get asked. Which is where you come in. What do you want me to find out? How much do they claim in expenses? What do they consider their role is? What do they do all day?

Send in your questions using the form below and I will do my best to put them to the MEPs as the week unfolds.

And join me as I clamber aboard the train for Strasbourg - the town in eastern France that the entire Parliament decamps to from Brussels each month, in one of those rituals critics of the EU, and, to be fair, the majority of MEPs, love to criticise so much.

My companion for the journey will be Jean Lambert, of the Green Party, who has agreed to meet me at St Pancras on Monday morning for the journey to France. Wish me luck.

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