21st January 2014: This morning at the European Parliament in Brussels, Andrew Brons made the following contribution to a debate in the Constitutional Affairs Committee (AFCO) on changes in the Rules of Procedure.
"I think that rather than placing a numerical limit on the number of written questions that are asked of the Commission, publicity should be used to deter those asking an excessive number of questions.
"I would like to know the identity of the member who has asked 890 questions in 2013? Perhaps he is so devoid of friends that he feels a need to communicate with the Commission."
21st January 2014: Yesterday afternoon at the European Parliament in Brussels, Andrew Brons made the following contribution to a debate following a hearing in the Constitutional Affairs Committee (AFCO) on whether the crisis endangered The European Union Democratic achievements.
"Professor Steven Blockmans* reminded us, if we needed reminding, that member states needed to submit their budgets to the Commission for scrutiny, when national budgets are clearly a member state competence.
"Member state governments are responsible to their electorates for their national budgets above any other responsibility.
"Possibly the question that should have been asked is not whether the crisis has endangered European Union democratic achievements but whether the EU response to the crisis has undermined democracy in member states."
* Senior Research fellow and Head of the EU Foreign Policy Unit at the Centre for European Policy Studies-CEPS 15
18th December 2013: On Tuesday at the European Parliament in Brussels, Andrew Brons made the following contribution to a debate in the Constitutional Affairs Committee (AFCO) on the privileges and immunities of the European Union.
"There is an ambiguity in Article 9 of Protocol 7 on the privileges and immunities of the European Union.
"It says that immunity cannot be claimed when a member is found in the act of committing an offence and shall not prevent the European Parliament from exercising the right to waive the immunity of one of its members.
"Does the second half of the sentence relate only to the first half - to people caught in the act of committing offences or does it have a wider application? Does it suggest that the EP has an unqualified right to waive immunity?
"The concept of somebody being caught in the act of committing an offence might be clear when relating to clear cut offences like murder or theft. However, in the case of Orwellian thought-crimes offences, the authorship of the words might not be in dispute but their criminality might be hotly disputed.
"Article 8 refers to MEPs not being subject to legal proceeding in respect of opinions expressed in the performing of their duties.
"Does this mean that words spoken in the plenary session and perhaps in committees enjoy absolute privilege? If they are expressed outside the Parliament and the subject is a present competence of the Union or within a competence that is being sought by the EU, surely the MEP is speaking in the performance of his or her duties."
18th December 2013: Yesterday at the European Parliament in Brussels, Andrew Brons made the following contribution to a debate held in the Constitutional Affairs Committee (AFCO) on the Rangel Report about proposed changes to the relationship between the European Parliament and the Commission.
"I wish to refer to only one area of this Report - that contained in paragraph A and proposal 3 - to the proposed indirect election of the President of the Commission by means of the European Parliamentary elections. (This is the idea that each European Political Party should choose its own candidate for President of the Commission and that voters would be invited to vote for a European Political Party on the basis of the Parties' preferred candidates).
"We have heard that the electorate's choices should be reflected in the choice of the President of the Commission.
"If all or most electors voted for the new European Political Parties, as distinct from national political parties and if they did so on the criterion of the designation by these parties of particular candidates for the Commission President, then the electorate would have exercised a choice that could indeed be reflected in the choice of Commission President.
"However, if electors continue to vote for national political parties or if they vote for European Political Parties simply because their preferred national party is part of their chosen European Party, the electorate would not have exercised a choice that could be reflected.
"Electors cannot be compelled to vote on particular criteria, any more than they can be compelled to vote in a particular way - for a particular party or candidate.
"We cannot assume that voters voting for a particular European party are doing so in order to support the candidature of a particular person to be Commission President.
"Most electors in the UK have never heard of European Political Parties and many have not heard of the Commission or its President. There are even some who have not heard of MEPs.
"It would take years of re-education (and I use that term with all of its connotations) to explain these to them and to persuade them to vote on the basis of competing candidates for the Presidency of the Commission."
17th December 2013: Yesterday at the European Parliament in Brussels, Andrew Brons made the following contribution to a debate in the Constitutional Affairs Committee (AFCO) on amendments to the rules of procedure for asking parliamentary questions.
The background to this is:
1) that 12,900 questions had been asked this year.
2) that 91% of members had asked at least one question.
3) that one member had asked 889 questions.
4) many questions were repetitive and asked the same question successively about the EU's relations with a multitude of non-member countries.
5) other questions required information that could have been answered by use of the internet.
6) that the cost of answering each question was enormous but not stated in the debate.
"Mr Duff had suggested that a question ought to be requesting information - "a seeking after the truth".
"Questions do not have to be a request for objective information to be worth asking-a seeking after the truth as Mr Duff put it.
"A question might legitimately ask for interpretation of a word or a phrase used in (say) a Commission document.
"It is perfectly legitimate to challenge the assumption on which policies are based or seeking the meaning of words used.
"Perhaps members should be asked to attach to their questions, their justifications for asking. The time wasters might find it difficult to do that."
27th November 2013: Yesterday at the European Parliament in Brussels, in his second contribution to a hearing in the Constitutional Affairs Committee (AFCO) on voter participation in the European elections, Andrew Brons said:
"We have just heard* that we need a new treaty that should be put to a Europe-wide referendum. Would we have just one referendum or would we have a succession of them until the people give the right answer? I think that it's called conditional direct democracy.
"We have now heard** that we must encourage participation in the European elections only selectively. Whilst we should encourage those with a positive view of the EU, we should not encourage those with a sceptical view or with 'far right' views***. Well, the easiest way to achieve that would be to restrict the right to vote to those approved by the EU. I am sure that somebody will come up with that suggestion in the end.
"On a separate issue, I am interested in why the Christian churches snubbed your invitation. That presumes that they were invited.****"
* from Gerald Häfner a German Green MEP
** from the Chief Rabbi of Belgium, Albert Guigui
*** The term 'far right' is hate speech for nationalists and patriots-
**** There were several representatives of 'Civil Society'. There was a representative of Islam; there was a representative of the Hindus; there was a representative of Judaism; there were representatives of secularism - the National Secular Society; and some philosophical organisations. There was nobody who was described or who described himself or herself as a representative of any Christian church. The President of AFCO said that people could be invited but could not be compelled to attend. He did not say expressly that they had been invited.
26th November 2013: This afternoon at the European Parliament in Brussels, Andrew Brons made the following contribution to a debate in the Constitutional Affairs Committee (AFCO) on voter participation in EU elections.
"The fact that there has been a negative correlation between the power of the EU and the European Parliament on the one hand and voter turnout on the other, has been described as a paradox. It is only a paradox only if your first premise is that the people want or appreciate a European Parliament and an EU with power - and they are not the same. In fact only a minority know about the increased power of the Parliament. However, nearly all know about the increased power of the EU and they don't like it.
"We have been told that voters will respond to alternative, new and unfamiliar European political parties (in the 2014 European elections). They are much more likely to respond to those whose names they know - that have retained their familiar names. They will be parties that have decided not to affiliate to a European political Party or have been refused registration because their ideologies and policies are disapproved by the EU.
"We have been told that low turnout is a sign of apathy; it might be in some cases. However, it might also be a sign of antipathy - antipathy to the EU Project.
"It might be a rejection of the fact that the European Union has become progressively less European, with its population as the result of immigration and with its economies as the result of Globalisation.
"Abstention has an honourable history, as what I would call a plus one choice - a choice additional to the list of parties and candidates. If it is a legitimate choice and it is in all countries that retain the right to vote and have not replaced it with a duty to vote, it is not the business pof the European Union to spend public money to dissuade people from exercising that choice freely.
"We have heard (from one of the invited guests) that Europe must be a Europe of Democracy and in the same breath a call for political discrimination in the funding of European political parties. However, he mustn't worry, political discrimination is in the woodwork here.
"The absurd contradiction cannot be seen or understood."
26th November 2013: Today at the European Parliament in Brussels, Andrew Brons made the following two contributions to a debate in the Constitutional Affairs Committee (AFCO) on European Political Parties.
Introduction: This has been discussed several time previously. AFCO is now keen to reach agreement with the Council and the Commission, in order that it should be enacted in advance of the 2014 European elections. One of the points of contention is the procedure for de-registration. The three countries that are currently refusing to agree to the Parliament's proposals are the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic (which still lacks a government).
Andrew made two interventions on the same subject.
"The Explanatory Memorandum mentions the possibility of party registering as a European Political Party but not applying for funding. In what circumstances might this arise. Is there a lower requirement for registration than for funding. What would be the disadvantage of a party not being registered, when compared with a party that was registered but not funded?*
"You, Mr. President, said that de-registration was an important political issue and that the Parliament should be fully involved. The word political was well chosen.
"For all the talk of the need for impartiality, it must be remembered that the members making the one application (for the de-registration of two parties) that has been made, forgot to mention the grounds for de-registration. That rather gave their game away. It would be analogous to a call for somebody to be prosecuted, convicted and imprisoned without naming the crime.
"There is talk in the document of freedom of association. This is freedom of association only for those who are approved of."
Second contribution following other speakers
"I asked earlier whether there were different criteria for registration and for funding.
The text of the document mentions the requirement for a party to have one MEP but only in the context of funding (as distinct from registration). I understood that it applied to both.
"What is the disadvantage of not being registered, compared with being registered but unfunded?*
"Mr. President, you suggested that the final decision should be by a Parliamentary vote rather than by a single individual and it has been suggested that such votes could be objective. However, the criteria - so-called European values - are highly subjective. In my view, the governments of many member states are undemocratic but you might disagree. This would involve a majority of politicians empowered to take decisions about the fate of a minority of politicians.
"In my view all parties should fund themselves by becoming popular. If all parties were registered and received funding, it would be an unwise use of public funds. If some are funded and other not funded, it becomes a corrupt use of public funds."
* Andrew asked this question twice because it was not answered the first time and it has still not been answered.
26th November 2013: This morning at the European Parliament in Brussels, Andrew Brons made the following speech during a debate in the Constitutional Affairs Committee (AFCO) on the Implementation of the Lisbon Treaty.
"The Rapporteur considered the merits of indirect election of the President of the Commission as well as direct election of the President of the European Commission.
"The indirect election of the President is of course possible without treaty change, simply by European Political Parties adopting rival candidates for the Presidency. Is there any opinion poll evidence to suggest that electorates will accept the invitation to cast their votes for European Political Parties on that basis. They will probably continue to vote on national criteria for national political parties.
"The direct election of the President of the Commission would of course require treaty change. Is there any evidence that significant proportions of the electorates know enough about role of the President or of the Commission itself or even the existence of those bodies, to exercise a rational vote. I suspect that the turn-out for such an election would be miniscule.
"The Lisbon Treaty, of course, expanded the legislative role of the European Parliament, which some would applaud. My view is well-known and does not need to be rehearsed. However, that expansion is worthwhile only if members know what they are voting on.
"When our Vice President, Mr Papastamkos, collapsed during the plenary session in March, President Schulz remarked with unusual frankness that most MEPs did not know what they voting on (in the long legislative session that had extended over two hours). This is because amendments and voting lists change at the last moment.
"This happens not only in the plenary sessions. It happened in AFCO during the morning session in the October plenary (on the 24th October). I waited for the voting list to appear during the previous evening but it had not arrived by 8.30 pm so I left. I discovered the next morning that it had not arrived until 11.45 pm. I had marked how I would vote on the reports but those votes had to be transcribed quickly onto the voting list with the help of one of my assistants. The vote started before the transcription was complete. I noticed one MEP who had tabled a number of amendments was not voting for his own amendments, clearly because he was unable to recognise them.
"Voting should be informed and rational. Most votes are neither.
"I notice the leaders of the large groups signalling to their members how they should vote, without any possibility that the MEPs understand what they are being asked to do.
"I try to be involved with my assistants on all legislative decisions but that is difficult if I want to listen to, and participate in, debates."
26th November 2013: Yesterday at the European Parliament in Brussels, Andrew Brons made the following speech during a debate in the Constitutional Affairs Committee (AFCO) on a proposal for a regulation on uniform rules and procedures for regulation of credit institutions mainly in the Eurozone.
"My comments are addressed mainly to those whose lives are so uneventful that they are watching our debate in their own homes this afternoon. This is just as well because there will be marginally more of them than there are members of this Committee (There were six MEPs present at the start of the debate).
"Some people, in the United Kingdom, might wonder at my taking part in any discussion or voting on something that will affect only Eurozone countries or other participating states, when the UK is not in the Zone and is unlikely to become a participating state.
"However, that does not mean that a future government of the UK might not have its sights on the UK joining the Eurozone or becoming a participating state.
"Furthermore, the rule for multi-tier governance and exclusion of non-participating member states do not apply to the Parliament. That means that I have a right to participate - possibly a duty to do so.
"My concern for advancing and defending the role of national parliaments does not begin and end with the role of the United Kingdom Parliament. I am concerned to defend and advance the role for the national parliaments of all member states. I am not a UKIP Little Englander. Whilst I am not an enthusiast for the European Union, I would prefer a Union with a greater role for national parliaments than one with a lesser role for national parliaments. I shall therefore vote for amendments that increase their role and against those that diminish their role.
"I am not an enthusiast for the Council but it does at least contain the representatives of member states.
"I am even less an enthusiast for the Parliament, when it exercises power over member states. However, I am in favour of it, as an elected body, exercising powers and oversight over appointed bodies like the Single Resolution Board, when they would otherwise be unexamined and
unregulated. I shall therefore vote for amendments that increase those powers or facilitate oversight.
"I shall abstain on what I consider to be drafting amendments.
"I shall of course vote against the resolution as a whole, because I value national independence of all member states and not just my own."
After the debate, Andrew told his website:
"A comment by Andrew Duff (Lib-Dem) not on my contribution was revealing.
"He said that the Single Resolution Mechanism might eventually need Treaty change because of the large transfer of state sovereignty to the EU."