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Europe European Parliament

Generation Europe

   Mon 02/04/2001

Three young, reform-oriented MEPs are examined in the Time magazine of April 2, 2001. Their ideas of shaking up the E.U. bueaucracy is just what the new "generation Europe" needs.

Most young Europeans don't dream of making it big in Brussels. But members of the European Parliament Nick Clegg, 34, Michiel van Hulten, 32, and Lousewies van der Laan, 35, are not your average thirty-somethings. For a start, they are passionate about European politics — and that means they're passionate about the European Union. Mention institutional reform and they bristle with excitement; ask of their ambitions and they gush about shaking up the E.U. "If you're young and want to change things, you should follow the power — and power is shifting toward Brussels," says Dutch Liberal Van der Laan.

Since they were first elected in June, 1999, the three M.E.P.s have been making waves in the still pond of the Brussels bureaucracy, striking at some of the E.U's cushiest perks and least effective talking shops. Dutch Socialist Van Hulten successfully fought for Friday meetings of the European Parliament in Strasbourg to be scrapped because no one bothered to turn up for votes, a move that has saved taxpayers millions of euros; Clegg has campaigned for the Parliament's over-generous system of pay and allowances to be scaled back; and Van der Laan has called for feckless institutions like the Committee of the Regions, which represents local and regional interests, to prove their worth or face the axe. "Ironically, being a bit of an insider helps you be a bit more of a reformer," says British Liberal Clegg. On key issues, such as parliamentary reform, the three often club together to push their case. For example, the end of the Friday votes in Strasbourg was the first step toward their goal of canceling the Parliament's expensive monthly treks to Strasbourg altogether. Despite their youth, they are old hands at playing the Brussels power game. Before they were elected M.E.P.s, all three worked as speechwriters or policy wonks in various E.U. institutions, picking up language skills, contacts and a shared distaste for bureaucracy. With their personal websites, e-mail campaigns and regular appearances on high-brow talkshows, they know how to work the media too. Van der Laan, in particular, is a spectacular self-publicist. Last year, she sparked an unholy debate after she urged the Netherlands to break off diplomatic links with the Vatican because of the Pope's stance on family planning.

Although Van Hulten, Clegg and Van der Laan squirm at the "young Turks" characterization, they concede that fresh ideas are needed as the E.U. faces the challenges of internal reform and eventual enlargement to the east. "We need a reconciliation between the generation that built Europe and the one that will take it into the future," says Van Hulten. Waging war on the old guard might seem a strange way of building bridges, but the three M.E.P.s know that time is on their side.

Link to the article with photos: http://www.time.com/time/europe/generatione/profiles/euromps.html