15th June 2011: This was a contribution from Andrew Brons to a debate in the Constitutional Affairs Committee (AFCO) on proposed legislation enabling European Parliamentary inquiries to demand that witnesses should attend inquiries and answer questions Andrew said: "The proposed regulation would enforce attendance of any person designated and force the person to give evidence. This is a significant intrusion into the private life of an individual. I am not, of course, saying that such intrusions are never justified. It is quite right that courts in sovereign states have a right to do so. However, the European Union is not yet a sovereign state, although it doubtless has ambitions to become one. Furthermore, the European Parliament is not a court. The proposed powers go beyond the powers of select committees in the House of Commons. They can enforce attendance by witnesses by threatening action for contempt of Parliament if they fail to do so. However, it would seem that they cannot force witnesses to answer questions, as could be seen by Edwina Currie's appearance before the Agriculture Select Committee many years ago or the case of the Maxwell brothers (above) when they appeared before the Social Security Select Committee." The Rapporteur, Mr. David Martin, replied by saying that the regulation would force the member state concerned to enforce attendance and would not enforce attendance itself.
14th June 2011: When you want to measure the charged atmosphere of an event you have only to look for an old hand and listen to his comments. The old hand was personified in Mr. Andrew Duff, the British Liberal Democrat, whose attendance record, in AFCO, is second to none. He remarked laconically that the report from Mr. David Martin the British Labour MEP (on the interpretation of rules 50 and 51 with reference to association agreements which to a substantial extent refer to trade agreements) was "not the most interesting report that he had read". I had not previously noticed Mr. Duff's gift for understatement. Furthermore, I had assumed, quite wrongly it seems, that dryness in a document was the quality that he always sought.
I can assure you that dryness was not lacking in the rest of the meeting. At the beginning of the meeting our President (of AFCO) Carlo Casini introduced us to the absorbing topic for discussion of the interpretation of Rules 13 and 18 of the Rules of Procedure relating to the election of Vice Presidents (of committees). Dryness was not the only ingredient in this dish; it also had a dash of incomprehensibility and more than a hint of the soporific. Please read this when seated lest the hallucinogenic nature of the words should induce you to rash action or response.
Rule 13 of the European Parliament's Rules of Procedure states that "Vice Presidents shall be elected by secret ballot in accordance with Rule 169" (explanation of which must wait for another occasion when we are all much older). "However, if the number of nominations does not exceed the number of seats to be filled, the candidates may be elected by acclamation". Acclamation is defined in my dictionary as, "loud and eager assent" or, "shouting in a person's honour". During my two years in AFCO I have heard little shouting, loudness or eagerness, so if Mr. Casini has expectations of that sort of thing he is certainly heading for disappointment. There were only about seven of us at the height of the afternoon's entertainment so we would have had to have been extra loud to make up for our absent colleagues.
Are you still with us? If you are, you might be wondering what Mr. Casini needed to be interpreted. Well Mr. Casini noted that the word candidate and the word nomination appeared in the plural as candidates and nominations. Our committee (I think that it was our committee that he was talking about but I might have dropped off at that point) was intending to elect a new Vice President but there would be only one candidate and one position to be filled. Could the words in Rule 13 apply to only one candidacy for one position? I must say in Mr. Casini's defence that he was formerly a judge and so has a penchant for torturing himself about definitions of words that are quite clear.
The rest of the meeting did not belie its early promise. Dryness was not absent. Indeed, it was pronounced a complete drought zone before the half-way point.
There was a debate about the amendment of Regulation (EC) No 1049/2001 regarding public access to European Parliament, Council and Commission documents which seemed to peter out because the Commission, which must start any legislative process had not done the necessary work. It is comforting that the Commission, whose task is to subvert nations and promote cosmopolitanism sometimes cannot be bothered!
The meeting finally came to an unscheduled end at 4.20 p.m. because Mr. Martin who was due to present his report on a proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament on the detailed provisions governing the exercise of the European Parliament's right of inquiry and repealing Decision 95/167/EC, Euratom, ECSC of the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission, had to attend a meeting with a Scottish secretary of state.
What an escape!
So now you know why I did not make a contribution. I did not want to be outdone in the quick wit and repartee stakes.
24th May 2011: This morning at the European Parliament in Brussels, Andrew Brons MEP made this contribution to a debate in the Constitutional Affairs Committee (AFCO) on a report of the Interinstitutional Working Party on Regulatory Agencies. Mrs Jutta Haug explained that her working party of six MEPs was considering new rules for regulatory agencies of which there are thirty-two. She said that there should be a 'sunset clause' or 'review clause' for agencies so that they could be reconsidered regularly to see whether or not they were still necessary. She said that the number of agencies had increased from eight to thirty-two. Andrew Brons responded: "I like the idea of a sunset or review clause. I was tempted to ask whether or not all EU institutions and even the EU itself should have a sunset clause but I resisted the temptation on the ground that it would be too mischievous. I should like to ask: Are the functions of each agency stated clearly at the outset? Can these functions be added to by the agencies themselves to ensure their survival. Has any agency ever been disbanded? On whose initiative were the additional agencies created? Are the already general rules governing the creation of agencies? Is information about the work of agencies available to the public?" In an effort to answer these queries, Mrs Haug said that some agencies have been created by the Parliament and others by the Commission. However, the Parliament can always say 'No' (to the creation of agencies). She said that budgets and organisational structures and personnel are made public but she did not refer to their activities and decisions. She said that some agencies had been disbanded and she named some of these. Some others had been subjected to review and had survived after having been given new functions.
23rd May 2011: This afternoon, in the European Parliament in Brussels, Andrew Brons delivered the following speech during a debate in his Constitutional Affairs Committee (AFCO) during a meeting with Viviane Reding, Vice President of the Commission. Mrs Reding had spoken of the 'problem' of falling turn outs in European Parliamentary elections and suggested that it was attributable to a lack of knowledge and understanding of the EU and its work. She also complained that few workers living in countries other than their own voted or joined political parties in their country of residence. Andrew Brons said: "Is there any evidence that non-citizen residents wish to vote in their residential country or wish to join parties in those countries. The 'problem' if it is a problem is that even people living in their own countries are less inclined to vote than they were previously. If the problem had been lack of knowledge and understanding, then why should it have been greater in the past and less now? Is the key to the problem not a lack of knowledge but a lack of sympathy with the EU and progress towards further integration. 'Democracy' is 'Government by the People' - 'People' being a singular noun denoting a cohesive, self conscious unit. It is not 'Government by an arbitrary collection of persons. The idea of the votes of transient residents being counted with those of established nationals of a country is not an extension of democracy but a dilution of it. I do not want to deprive transient workers of their right to vote. I want to facilitate their exercising that right, in their own countries, by postal vote, rather than in countries in which they are temporarily resident and about which they know little and care even less." Responses Mrs. Reding's reply was that that 900,000 of the 7.5 million residents of other countries than their own had applied for the right to vote and that there had been eighty-one candidates in the 2009 European election standing in countries other than their own. Mr. Duff, a British Liberal Democrat highlighted the problem of home countries (including the UK) depriving citizens of their right to vote after several years residence (fifteen years in the case of the UK.
23rd May 2011: Contribution from Andrew Brons to a debate on written declarations in his Constitutional Affairs Committee (AFCO) at the European Parliament in Brussels. "Written declarations provide a means by which members can state a collective opinion and commit themselves to their constituents, lobbyists and the public without using valuable plenary or committee time. Perhaps it is the equivalent of those bar and pub owners who place a chalk board in the lavatory or washroom to dissuade them from writing or painting graffiti on the wall - i.e. to dissuade them from doing something worse. With regard to the cost of written declarations, I am sure that the cost can be calculated. If this is not prohibitive, they should be allowed to continue. If the cost does appear to be prohibitive, perhaps an alternative method of collecting signatures should be used - perhaps they should be collected electronically. With regard to the question of members withdrawing their support (and their signatures) from a written declaration, I see no reason for them to be forbidden from doing so. I think that it was Mrs. Gormai who suggested that there might be two reasons for members to do so. One was that the signing might be superseded by subsequent events or new circumstances. In this case I would suggest that the member should be invited - not compelled - to explain the new circumstances. The other reason was political pressure. I think that the MEP might be invited - not compelled - to make a declaration that no political pressure had been brought to bear."
19th April 2011: In his third contribution of the week, Andrew Brons spoke during a debate in the Constitutional Affairs Committee (AFCO) on changes to the budget.
"I shall first refer to section dealing with money for the communication of benefits of EU membership.
You will notice that it is communicating the benefits of the EU and not its detriments. There are no detriments; they are not allowed to exist or to be acknowledged to exist.
It is presumed that if there is hostility to the European Union, it is the result of ignorance. In fact, much of the opposition to the EU is founded on knowledge and understanding of the true nature of the EU.
I have no objection to money being spent to communicate indisputable facts about the EU - its institutions and whom one should contact or to money spent by individual MEPs to communicate with their constituents.
However, money should not be spent to communicate one sided propaganda by the EU.
I shall now refer to the section dealing with the funding of political parties. They undoubtedly need funding but, in an ideal world, they should be funded by their members, which would be an indication of their support.
I am opposed to the funding of parties by corporations or by unions, because it makes them subservient to those organisations. However, I am also opposed to state funding or superstate (EU) funding, because that makes parties subservient to the state or superstate.
Nevertheless, if funding exists, it must be available for all parties and parties opposed to state funding should not be criticised for claiming their share."
19th April 2011: This morning Andrew Brons made this contribution, his second of the week, to a debate in the Constitutional Affairs Committee (AFCO) on the new Hungarian Constitution.
"This might seem to be strange question to most members who come from countries with documentary constitutions but it will mean more to people from the UK which lacks a documentary constitution.
Was it necessary to include all of the references to the European Union - particularly the reference to the commitment to further European integration and to the Lisbon Treaty - in the Constitution, as distinct from in the ordinary law? I presume that the Constitution is entrenched or rigid - more difficult to change than the ordinary law. Would this make it difficult - perhaps very difficult - for Hungary to withdraw from the European Union, if Hungary should wish to do so, or even difficult to slow down the process of European integration?
Mr. Guerrero said that it was standard practice to put a new constitution to a referendum and I agree that it should be. However, this is something that most member states forgot to do when they adopted the Constitutional Treaty in its later guise of the Lisbon Treaty.
I have no objection to reference being made to the Hungarian diaspora in the Constitution. They are not (descendants of) voluntary emigrants who decided to leave their homeland. They are victims of the 1920 Treaty (the Treaty of Trianon), which deprived Hungary of two thirds of its territory (and much of its population)."
19th April 2011: Yesterday afternoon in the European Parliament in Brussels, Andrew Brons spoke during a debate on COSAC in the Constitutional Affairs Committee.
COSAC is an inter-parliamentary body comprising MPs from member states who are on committees to look at the EU and members of the European Parliament.
"It would appear that the Brussels meeting (of COSAC) did not get onto substantive issues and became preoccupied with procedural questions and one in particular. The one point on which there appeared to be agreement was that the European Parliament should have its representation cut from 14% to less than 4%.
There seems to be a clear message: that the Parliamentary representatives of the members states believe that foreign and defence policy is not a legitimate concern for the European Parliament or even the European Union.
That message is no doubt inconsistent with the Lisbon Treaty and indeed earlier treaties, going back to Maastricht. However, it accords with the wishes of the populations of member states and with the actions (if not the express wishes) of the governments of member states. These facts might not be liked in some quarters but they cannot be ignored.
I found it interesting that the word 'populism' was used by several speakers and it appeared to be used as a pejorative word for 'democracy' when the democratic voice was disapproved of. To use just one example, it would appear that the result of the first Irish referendum (on the Lisbon Treaty) was an expression of populism, whilst the result of the second was an expression of democracy."
11th April 2011: This was Andrew's last contribution of the week in the European Parliament in Strasbourg and came during a debate held in AFCO on proposed changes to the procedures for the election of MEPs.
Amendment 128 concerning a proposal to debar people with convictions for a selective range of offences (including ‘incitement to racism’) from becoming MEPs.
"Amendment 128 contains a very selective list of offences. It omits murder and other homicides and it omits crimes of violence – even extreme violence, provided that they are not committed by a member of the Mafia or of a terrorist organisation.
Lesser acts of violence and damage to property are also omitted, even if they are politically motivated, such as the acts of those who incited and led the riots in 1968 or, more recently, in London.
However, the Thought Crime laws in France have such a low threshold that offences can be committed by an ill-chosen word such as ‘detail’ (in one case) or ‘debate’ (in another). It is not even necessary expressly to state a heretical opinion.
I agree with György Schöplin about ‘trumped up charges’ (debarring a person from becoming an MEP). However, this is not confined to former Communist countries. The United Kingdom is particularly good at the practice and was particularly so before the Police and Criminal Evidence Act hindered such behaviour.
The list of exclusions is politically selective. If you want to exclude people from standing in a less selective way, it would be better to do so by stating a minimum sentence, as suggested in amendment 125. However, it would be better still to leave the question to member states".
Compromise Amendment L
"This suggests that party lists of candidates should be gender balanced. This amounts to telling parties by whom they should be represented and it is patronising to women. It is an offence against freedom of association. The fact that 35% of MEPs are women is testimony that there are no artificial restrictions. The flaw in the amendment is the semi-open list which allows voters to be as biased as they wish in their choices of candidate. However, I have a solution. I suggest that every voter might be accompanied by an electoral official into the voting booth, where he should be subjected to interrogation to ensure that no politically incorrect considerations are allowed to influence his voting decision”.
Amendment 129 which suggested that MEP should not be allowed to serve more than three terms (of five years)
"I believe that this is a restriction on the rights of voters to vote for the candidate of their choice. I shall not be standing again but I have no objection to voters voting for candidates of whatever age, if they choose to do so.
Amendment 130 which argued for a European electoral roll
"This amendment is superficially attractive, because it is designed to prevent people from voting more than once (in their own country and in their country of residence).
However, there is a danger that this will lead to yet another competence being transferred from member states to the EU”.
The definition of Degressive Proportionality
"I must admit that I do not have a snappy definition of this. I have a nightmare that I will be door-stepped by an aggressive constituent demanding to know what it means. My immediate solution is to send them to Mr. Duff. However, if I had a snappy definition of my own, I would be able to pretend that I know more than I really do!”
"I must say that this was my favourite amendment. As a grammatical pedant, I was delighted to find an amendment, the sole purpose of which was to remove a ‘split infinitive’, which might not translate well into other languages. When I looked at the proposers of the amendment, I suspected that Mr. Schöpflin was responsible (He acknowledged that he was!)".
15th March 2011: This was a speech made by Andrew Brons during a debate in his Constitutional affairs Committee (AFCO) this morning on proposed changes to the method of election of MEPs. "I believe that the creation of a transnational, Europe-wide constituency, represented by twenty-five MEPs will be largely ignored by voters and turnout for this part of the election will fall to unprecedented levels. We have been told that transnational lists must be gender-balanced. I am cautious about voting systems that seek to influence and even prescribe in advance the result of elections and, in particular, profiles of the successful candidates. Achieving greater gender balance might, other things remaining equal, be a desirable thing. However, 35% of women in a Parliament (the current proportion of women MEPs) is a figure that would compare favourably with the vast majority of Parliaments in the world. Prescribing whom parties should select as candidates is coming close to prescribing how voters should be allowed to exercise their choices. Prescribing to parties that gender balance is more important than all of the other criteria on which candidates are chosen is one interference too many. It is an assault on the right that parties have to decide who should represent them in elections. Andrew Duff, the Liberal Democrat MEP, proposed that voters should be able to choose between a closed and an open list for their chosen parties. That would have the merit of allowing voters to divide themselves into a discerning, sophisticated category on the one hand and a less sophisticated, lazy, unenquiring category on the other. It also has the merit of providing voters with the opportunity to promote themselves from the unsophisticated category to the sophisticated category in two successive elections. However, we must not think that encouraging voters to exercise individual choice of candidates will lead to greater gender or ethnic balance. That would be to assume that the electorates are as keen on gender balance and balance of other characteristics as the European Union is."