16th September 2013: Today at the European Parliament in Brussels, Andrew Brons made the following speech to a debate in the Constitutional Affairs Committee (AFCO) on proposals from Alain Lamassoure MEP suggesting changes in the relationship between the European Parliament and the institutions representing member states (the Council and the European Council).
"The holding of a debate, before each meeting of the European Council, provides us with a valuable opportunity to comment on the agenda beforehand. However, if the President of the European Council were to be present at such debates, questions would inevitably be asked with the expectation that they should be answered.
"As the document pointed out, the President of the European Council, unlike the President of the Commission, is not responsible (in the sense of accountable) to the Parliament. The presence of the President of the European Council before the European Council meeting would be a step towards making him (and indirectly the European Council) answerable if not accountable to the European Parliament.
"The same might be said of his (the President of the European Council's) presence at annual State of the Union debates, which are currently addressed only by the President of the Commission.
"This increase in the power and prestige of the Parliament would not come free of charge. It would be at the expense of the European Council - the body representing the governments of member states.
"For that reason I would argue against the proposal and it is probably for the same reason that others here (on AFCO) would commend it.
"The Rapporteur has assured us that his proposals would not require changes in the Treaties. No but there would be a de facto shift of power from member states to the European Parliament, which is, quite expressly, not a body representing member states but the populations collectively."
After the meeting, Andrew reported:
A Portuguese member of the Committee, Paulo Rangel, implied that I ought to favour the power of Parliament.
I replied that I would - the power of member states' Parliaments.
He also remarked that I ought to favour de facto changes because that is the way in which the British Constitution had changed.
I had not said that I deprecated changes because they were de facto changes. I said that I deprecated them because I did not approve of their likely effects."
10th July 2012: Yesterday at the European Parliament in Brussels, Andrew Brons made the following speech during a debate, in the Constitutional Affairs Committee (AFCO) on Multi-Tier Governance*.
"The idea that differentiated integration might be an instrument for deeper integration seems to be a contradiction. However, without it, the degree of integration would be limited to the degree of integration acceptable to the country least committed to it. Of course, another way would be to scrap the need for unanimity on treaty changes but that would lead quickly to fragmentation and that would never do!
"There are many forms of differentiated integration explained in the Report (2012/2078(INI) but they fall neatly into two main categories:
- 1. a treaty agreed by all countries but with one or more countries having an opt-out; and
- 2. an international agreement outside of the Treaties but aimed at realising the aims of the Treaties.
"The Maastricht Treaty provided for the first time each of these. The UK's opt-out from European Monetary Union is an example of the first. The agreement to the Social Chapter by the eleven countries, excluding the United Kingdom, is an example of the latter.
"Can differentiated integration be allowed to become a permanent feature of the EU? Will not opt-outs and agreements outside the Treaties not lead inevitably to some countries reducing their membership to associate status (as suggested by Mr. Duff for the UK) or even leaving the EU altogether? I live in hope!
"I have a further question. Will differentiated integration allow for integration to be reversed for one or more member states? Mr. Cameron claims to think that that it is. However, I suspect that that is said for consumption by a credulous domestic audience.
"The principle of unequal treatment of unequal situations applies to Executive decisions (decisions on the Euro-zone being taken only by the governments of those countries that are members of it. However, it does not apply to the European Parliament. There is no suggestion that MEPs from countries that have opted out of particular arrangements (such as the Euro-zone) being excluded from legislating on the opted out areas.
Comment from Andrew:
It might sound odd for me to suggest that it is something of a contradiction for MEPs from all countries to take part in legislative decisions relating to something to which their countries have not signed up. However, I believe that the likeliest route by which the UK might withdraw from the EU is by a gradual distancing from it. Any move that facilitates this is, should be applauded. Whilst I should like to see a referendum on withdrawal from the EU, I am pessimistic about the chances of our being granted one.
* Multi-tier governance refers to the institutional adjustments that have to be made to deal with different member states having committed themselves to different degrees of EU integration e.g. some countries are members of the Euro-zone and others are not. This means that decisions relating to the Euro-zone will be confined to the governments of members of it.
10th July 2013: Yesterday at the European Parliament in Brussels, Andrew Brons made the following speech to a debate in the Constitutional Affairs Committee (AFCO) on The Programme of the Lithuanian Presidency.
He told his fellow MEPs:
"Each presidency is described by relation to the country presiding over it. However, the programme is not one devised by that country. It is a continuation of a policy that can ultimately be traced back not only to the trio* but to the Commission. The similarities between a whole succession of presidencies are quite revealing.
"This programme, like all of the others, repeats, uncritically, the same slogans. I shall provide you with just two examples. On the one hand the Presidency is calling for deeper economic and monetary union. On the other hand it is calling for greater European competitiveness.
"In the case of the Southern countries of the EU, it is their membership of the Euro-zone, with a currency that is overvalued for their economies that is the greatest single cause of not being competitive.
"The minister mentioned the importance of the independence of the registration authority for European Political Parties. However, nobody really means that. European Political Parties will have to adhere to a prescribed set of opinions. It is comparable to the role of the Election Commission in the 1936 Constitution of the Soviet Union, which was entrusted to register political parties but only if they were not critical of the system.
"It was quite revealing to hear that the people making the first ever application for the deregulation of two parties managed to forget to include in their application the grounds for de-registration. This is a little like a call to the police and prosecuting authority to prosecute a named individual but without stating for what he should be prosecuted.
"Free societies - open societies - allow free competition between competing opinions and freedom of association to form parties without interference by the state or a superstate. A democracy that says that you can participate if you do this or don't do that is a limited democracy which is no democracy at all.
"The attempt to persuade European Political Parties to promote different candidates for the Presidency of the Commission is interesting but it is an attempt by this House to tell voters the criteria on which they should vote - backed by special privileges such as extra party election broadcasts.
"Voters do not simply have the right to decide how they will vote. They also have the right to decide on what criteria they will vote.
"This is an attempt to persuade people that a vote for any party that does not have the status of European Political Party is a wasted vote."
* The trio comprises representatives of the country that previously held the Presidency, the country that currently holds the Presidency and the country that will next hold the Presidency
19th June 2013: Yesterday at the European Parliament in Brussels, Andrew Brons made the following contribution to a debate in the Constitutional Affairs Committee (AFCO) on European Political Parties(yet again, following yet again!).
"The first paragraph of the Explanatory Memorandum claims that European Parties contribute to a European political awareness: It does not say that they must do this but it would be a small step to imply that they must and it might become a European value.
"In the second paragraph, the right to freedom of association and freedom of expression - which includes the freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference from public authority - was a European value.
"The proposed facility for de-registration of a party on the grounds of policy is a clear, unambiguous denial of those rights. Indeed, those proposing de-registration reveal themselves, by their words and actions, to be working against those precious European values about which we have heard so much.
"We have heard this morning that decisions (on registration and de-registration) should be non-political. However, the first proposal to de-register two political parties was not accompanied by any ground in support of the application. It was an application without evidence.
"They were asking for sentencing without trial or evidence. People who do that reveal themselves as a lynch mob that takes decisions on the basis of who the victim is, rather than on what the victim has said or done.
"One of the European values is a belief in the Rule of Law. However, some make a distinction between the Rule of Law and rule according to the law.
"The latter simply means that oppressive conduct by government is backed by oppressive law. The former requires that laws should not be oppressive in the sense that that they are tailored to facilitate the unfavourable treatment of particular people, as distinct from others."
19th June 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 that the European Parliament should have the right to decide where it meets, in order that it might be enabled to choose to have one seat (place where its meetings are held), instead of two*, as at present.
"I hope that nothing that I say will be the kiss of death to this proposal. Perhaps I should attack it furiously in order to facilitate its success. Whilst I am not an admirer of the EU, I would rather have a slightly lower cost EU than a slightly higher cost EU.
"The reason for different institutions being situated in different countries of the European Economic Community** was largely symbolic - to make people in the different member states feel as though they were really part of the organisation. However, even then (in the 1950s) it did not include all of the six members are later the nine, ten, twelve, fifteen, twenty-five or twenty seven.
"We must ask what the price of that symbolism is:
- the extra money that having two seats costs, which must be uppermost in my mind as a critic of the EU; and
- the loss of efficiency that having two seats causes, which is a somewhat lower priority for me.
"Even if I were an ardent admirer of the EU (and I am not!), I would be in favour of saving the monetary cost of having two seats. Furthermore, the need for formal and informal negotiations as part of the Ordinary Legislative Procedure, with the Commission and the Council necessitate close proximity.
"The fact that other EU institutions are situated in other member states (the Court of Justice in Luxembourg; the European Central Bank in Frankfurt) is irrelevant to the difficulties being undergone by the Parliament and its administration. Those other institutions do not need to work together (with different institutions) so continually.
"I am not in principle in favour of Parliaments in general acting as though they were the owners of mobile homes, stopping and meeting where they choose to. However, this is about a single decision taken to change the permanent seat of the Parliament,
"Although, on this issue, I would favour the European Parliament's will overriding that of the European Council, I would not want to do anything to erode the need for unanimity for further treaty changes, which would almost certainly be to produce further treaty changes, which would almost inevitably produce further EU integration."
* Whilst most plenary meetings (meetings of all members together) of the European Parliament are held in Strasbourg, some are held in Brussels (or at least they were until the ceiling of the Brussels chamber collapsed last year).
** The European Economic Community(EEC) was the forerunner of the European Community(EC), which was the immediate forerunner of the European Union(EU).
18th June 2013: Yesterday at the European Parliament in Brussels, Andrew Brons made the following speech during a debate in the Constitutional Affairs Committee (AFCO) on amendments to Parliament's consent procedure*.
"Consent, under Rule 81, must, unless stipulated otherwise in the Treaties, simply require a majority of the votes cast. However, in some classes of decision, the Treaties require a majority of the Parliament's component members i.e. a majority of MEPs entitled to vote. Why?
"It is explained for us by the Rapporteur that a special majority requirement for Parliament's decision is to make sure that a decision of major importance cannot be taken by a fortuitous majority at a time when the attendance at the Plenary is low. I could not agree more. If I say that the Treaties occasionally contain words of wisdom, I hope that I shall not be accused of "going native".
"We are told that decisions of such major importance include decisions on whether to permit the accession of a new member state. Again, I agree absolutely. The accession of a new member country could indeed affect existing member states, favourably or adversely, I think of Iceland's fishing grounds and Turkey's quaint way of dealing with dissent. The effect on existing member states can indeed be profound though not quite as profound as the effect of membership on the acceding member state. I think particularly of poor Croatia.
"If a majority of the full complement of MEPs entitled to vote was necessary to permit the accession of Croatia, should it not have been necessary for a majority of the full electorate of Croatia to have agreed to Croatia's accession?
"Croatia's accession was agreed to by about two-thirds of the Croats who voted. However, the turnout was only 44% of those entitled to vote, which means that the percentage of eligible Croat voters to consent to Croatia's membership was just 29.04% - hardly full-hearted consent.
"There are many reasons for MEPs absenting themselves when they ought to be voting:
- 1. The legitimate reason might be other European Parliamentary business
- 2. Less legitimate, might be conniving with one's MEP staff to do work for one's national political party and then boasting about it to the media. Ask the BBC.
- 3. The MEP being invited to appear on the BBC's Question Time more than any other politician and having to leave the plenary early to do so.
- 4. The attraction of the Parliament's bar and smoke room by the same MEP
"The reasons for abstention by voters in a referendum on accession to the EU might be more complex. It was difficult - perhaps impossible - to persuade Croats of the advantage of membership. However, it was comparatively easy to spend public money frightening them of the consequences of voting 'No'."
* Consent procedure, formerly assent procedure, is the way in which the European Parliament gives its consent to a decision where Parliament's consent to that class of decision is required by the Treaties e.g international treaties, agreement to the accession of new member states and the accession of the EU to other international organisations such as the Council of Europe.
18th June 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 proposed new EU Regulation on EUROPOL.
He told his fellow Committee members:
"Serious organised crime is undoubtedly a serious problem - not just a threat. Only international co-operation between police forces can solve that problem. However, the word co-operation means means working together as equal partners. It does not mean subservience to a supranational authority.
"The present system involves the provision of information by member states to EUROPOL, but EUROPOL will decide how much of that information flows downwards.
"EUROPOL will be subject to the scrutiny of the European Parliament but the Parliaments of member states would receive information only in the form of reports, threat assessments, situation reports etc. The European Parliament would exercise budgetary control.
"Sensitive personal data - a wide range of personal characteristics - will be restricted and processed only when "strictly necessary", whatever that means. The Political Class encourages a climate of inhibition about even noticing correlations between, and connections with, the commission of serious crime. Senior officers in the British police forces are programmed not to notice correlations between members of population groups and grooming for human trafficking and non-user, large-scale drug dealing. EUROPOL should not expect to receive full and frank information from them.
"Of course, international criminals do not respect the frontiers of the Single Market and restrict their activities to the EU. International co-operation will be hindered, rather than helped, by the EU controlling the passage of information about organised crime committed world wide.
"World wide serious crime must be countered by world-wide co-operation facilitated by treaties between sovereign states, as widely through the world as is possible."
13th June 2013: On Monday at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, Andrew Brons made the following contribution to a debate in the Constitutional Affairs Committee (AFCO) preceding a vote on a decision of the European Council on the composition of the European Parliament.
Several speakers had spoken at length without interruption. When it was time for Andrew to speak, the President asked him to be brief!
"I shall be even briefer than you were just now.
"We have heard from one of the Rapporteurs that a vote against this would send all the wrong signals. It was this that convinced me that I had to vote against it!"
13th June 2013: On Monday at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, Andrew Brons made the following contribution following an address by Maros Sefcovic, the European Commissioner for Inter-Institutional Relations, to the Constitutional Affairs Committee (AFCO).
"At the last but one meeting of this committee, our President said that he hoped that decisions about registration and de-registration of European political parties should be de-politicised.
"The next day, our President gave us an account of the Co-ordinators' Meeting at which they had been asked arrange a debate in AFCO to consider de-registering two European Parties but AFCO could not be asked to consider the application to de-register these parties, because the unnamed applicants had not given any grounds in support of the application.
"Does this not rather give the game away? The application was, in essence, an application to de-register parties without considering any grounds. This means de-registering for who they are rather than for what they have done.
"This was similar to the notorious General Arrest Warrant that we thought had been consigned to (English) history.
"It reminds us of the White Queen in Lewis Carroll's Alice Through The Looking Glass, who explained to Alice, "We first decide the sentence and then we decide what the person has done".
Sentencing without evidence or proper process is lynch law and this is what the unnamed applicants wanted. I think that they should be named and shamed.
28th May 2013: Today at the European Parliament in Brussels, Andrew Brons made the following contribution to a debate in the Constitutional Affairs Committee (AFCO) on European Political Parties.
"Our President (Mr Casini) said (at the opening of this debate) that we should 'depoliticise' registration decisions. However, if the criteria, a particular interpretation of fundamental rights and values, have been drawn up by politicians, the registration decision* will be an objective decision on the basis of subjective criteria.
"Most authoritarian systems do not disadvantage their opponents by breaking their own rules. The rules suffice to do that, so they can work within their own rules.
"Furthermore, our President's summary of the Co-ordinators' meeting (this morning) mentioned that AFCO had been asked to consider two applications for (unnamed) European political parties to be deregistered. However, he said that he would have to write to the President of the Parliament to say that the applications could not be considered, because the applicants had not given any grounds for the proposed deregistration. That does not bode well for depoliticised decisions, if there are going to be applications for deregistration without any grounds being given!"
* A registration decision will either be a decision (ultimately by the European Parliament on the basis of a recommendation from 'three eminent persons') either to decide whether to accede to an application for registration as a recognised European Political Party or to decide whether a European Party that has been registered should be deregistered for breaking the rules.