hpmouseThe walls are bare in her meagre office, the furniture is cheap and MEP Jean Lambert is right about what she calls the “supposedly comfortable chairs”, they aren’t comfortable at all.

“This is our second office,” she tells me unabashed, other than that she makes no apologies for her down-at-heel surroundings. A green poison bait box sits next to the skirting board on one wall. Yes, they have a rodent problem.  

But in this tiny room on the second floor of an office building on Borough High Street, Green MEP, Jean Lambert, is planning her campaign for the European Parliament elections in June. 

She looks harried, and it takes a moment for her concentration to settle on me, as though always needed elsewhere.  She has been an MEP since 1999, and a member of the UK Green Party since there were just 50 members in the whole of London, 31 years ago. 

“We’ve been the vanguard on so many issues,” she says. 

A woollen cardigan hangs off of her shoulders, comfortable and well-worn.  For a politician she seems refreshingly unconcerned about appearances.  Before becoming an MEP she worked as a French and an English teacher at a school in Walthamstow, East London, and she would be well cast on Grange Hill.

“The new member states still have politicians who haven’t taken the environmental agenda on board,” she says, as though discussing an unruly class,  “And Italy have a regressive government and don’t give a monkeys.” 

Then, as though exasperated by a particularly naughty schoolboy, she says, “I’d put Berlusconi well up there.” 

Balancing life commitments with parliamentary work is difficult and Jean acknowledges that as an MEP her family life has suffered.  “It’s difficult for almost anybody in some ways, but that’s also true for MPs.  My husband and I have to try hard to remember who it was we married.” 

A committed MEP’s workload can be considerable, especially when combined with party campaigning and establishing a constituency presence. 

“I think you need a willingness to take things as they come at you,” Jean says, “If you’re the kind of person who gets highly stressed under pressure or when things don’t go your way this is not the job for you.” 

I get the impression that she’s putting a brave face on it. She feels stress like anyone, I can see she’s feeling the burden of a heavy back-log even as we speak, perhaps she just has a higher tolerance than most. 

“I take it very seriously,” she says.  “Even if there’s something we don’t support, if we think it’s an important piece of legislation we will work hard to get it changed and to rewrite it so it’s the best that it can be.”

Being an MEP is not a glamorous job, struggling always for compromise, between parties, between nations, struggling to get the attention of a petulant national press.  Jean has spent much of the past seven years trying to change the public perception of the Green Party as a single issue party by developing a progressive human rights agenda.  She was named Justice and Human Rights MEP of the year in 2005, but her message has barely registered with the British media. 

She is a work horse, peculiarly suited to the grey job of legislation, primed by long-held ideals for the endless disputes of a collaborative parliament in a media vacuum. 

“One of the things I love about the European Parliament is you’re working beyond borders,” she says, “It’s why I want to be in Europe and not Westminster.” 

But Jean Lambert could be lost on the backbenches of Westminster, a lone green drowned out between larger parties.  She’s not very showy, she doesn’t seem to have the front or the self-interest. 

As Vice-President of the 43 member Greens/European Free Alliance in the parliament she is twice as influential as the majority of British politicians and she gets a fraction of the recognition. 

She’s a rare kind of politician, an efficient one whose efficiency doesn’t depend on who happens to be watching.


The decision by the European Parliament’s Bureau to put “all data” regarding attendance of MEPs in plenary and committee meetings was timed perfectly, coinciding with the closure of independent web resource How MEPs Work which fulfilled the same function until financial problems forced its closure.

Visiting the site returns the message “Project offline”.

The report, put forward by Italian MEP Marco Cappato of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, aims to make information on attendance available to the public through the Parliament’s website before the 2009 election.

Cappato’s report said that, “Accessing information relating to the EU institutions still remains an obstacle-strewn path for ordinary citizens, due to the lack of an effective citizen-oriented inter-institutional policy of transparency and communication.”

An article on Schuman Square suggests The European Parliament’s Civil Liberties Committee may not not have passed the measure with such a majority had they read the fine print closely. 

 In addition to the attendance figures mentioned in the Euractiv article, Shuman Square reports that disclosure “Would include their participation in roll call votes,” and would be “Searchable by the MEP’s name, plenary, committee, delegation, vote, day or term.”

Reading the report I notice it also calls for information to be made available on MEPs allowances, spending and financial interests, and for National Parliaments and elected bodies to be invited to do the same “by establishing a Register of parliaments’ and parliamentarians’ activities”

This is an opportunity to throw some light on the inner workings of the EU, on the activities of MEPs and go some way towards encouraging transparency in member states. Cappato is right, there can be no real Democracy without transparency. If this measure makes it through the Plenary it can only improve the credibility of MEPs and the European Parliament, much as the excellent They Work for You has for MPs in Britain.

 The idea has its critics, Euractiv quoted Statewatch Editor Tony Bunyan’s response:  

“Under the Commission’s proposal, only the final document would be a “document”. All the draft proposal documents would not be ‘documents’, which means that all the changes, options, discussions would be secret and hidden from public view and scrutiny. The lifeblood of a democracy is the ability of parliaments, civil society and citizens to know what is being discussed and to make their views known before the final ‘document’ is set in stone.”

Mr. Bunyan is right to point out the shortcomings, but in practice the majority of voters will only dig so deep. A list of final votes should be fit for purpose in the run up to the June election, after which further transparency can be sought.  Cappato makes this aim clear in the report, which states, “The EU institutions should now take further steps towards greater transparency, openness and democracy by moving towards an “EU Freedom of Information Act”.  

The move was welcomed by London’s Green Party MEP Jean Lambert who said that generally attendance was a good sign of engagement.

“I’m willing to bet,” she said, “That when that info comes out there will be people who hardly ever set foot in the place.”

Discussing the usefulness of attendance figures in measuring an MEP’s engagement James Stevens posted the following on Jon Worth’s blog.

 “Plenary attendance is indeed a very crude measure of MEP effectiveness and in some cases probably more related to collecting daily allowances than anything else.”