Baltic voters will go to the polls this weekend to participate in a unique democratic event. They will select the individuals who will represent them in the European Parliament for the next five years.
On the one hand, this is crucial given the tremendous power that Parliament yields in the European political process. On the other, it might seem trivial to many here considering that the three Baltic states will hold only 28 seats in the 732-seat legislature - or less than 4 percent - which is akin to selecting a few fleas for a 400 pound gorilla. Why bother voting, the average EU-illiterate Balt might reason, if there is no sense of efficacy?
There are two good reasons why Balts need to get off the couch, or out of the strawberry patch, this weekend and cast their ballot. First, by not voting there is a greater chance that the few available seats will be filled by undesirables who just want to exploit the Europarliament feeding trough or will use their parliamentary mandate to spread unflattering propaganda about how minority rights are being grossly violated and how generally the Baltics are an uncivilized place. In Latvia in particular there are quite a few forces out to accomplish namely this.
Second, the European Parliament does indeed exercise tremendous power. It helps adopt the budget (approximately 100 billion euros per year), legislate issues such as the labor market, education, health, environment and so on, and determine the direction of strategic doctrines such as the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and the European Convention. The European Parliament, like any true body representative of a people, is also the emotional debating chamber where impressions can be formed on topics ranging from trade relations with China to, say, the situation with minorities in the distant Baltics.
But whom should we support? This is tricky, since the ratio of candidates to available seats is astonishing (Latvia, with 245 candidates going after nine spots, is the clear leader in this category). But the best approach, the one that will allow Balts to rest assured that they are being fairly represented in faraway Brussels and Luxembourg, will be to vote for those parties or candidates who will look after the interests of small states. Not social programs, not workers' concerns, not minorities' rights and certainly not Russia's ambitions. Balts must vote for those who will defend small states in the increasingly top heavy and expansion weary European Union. Some of the most important legislative battles in the next Parliament will consist of fundamental issues - i.e., who has what powers - and it is extremely important that the Baltic states have intelligent, experienced people in place who can ensure that small states will not get swallowed up in the process.