'12th July 2012: A vote was due to have taken place in the Constitutional Affairs Committee (AFCO) this morning on Protocol 30 affecting the application of the Charter of Fundamental Rights to the Czech Republic.
It was announced before the voting was due to start that the AFCO Committee had 'decided' the previous day to postpone the votes on the Czech Protocol.
A British Conservative MEP objected and said that no such decision had been taken; that there had been no vote. He said that if a postponement was desired, there should be a vote.
The President and various other committee members insisted that a decision had been taken, although they did not suggest that there had been a vote. They said that (the two largest political groups) the PPE (the Christian Democrats) and the Social Democrats and the Rapporteur had agreed, so that constituted the decision.
Andrew Brons said that not only had no vote taken place but no proposal had formally been tabled (and therefore there had been no debate). He said that if that agreement constituted a decision of the committee, perhaps in future plenary sittings (meetings of the whole Parliament) we could ask the PPE and the Social Democrats and if they and the Rapporteur agreed, the rest of the MEPs could stay in their offices and would not need to vote on anything!
12th July 2012: Andrew Brons made the following speech during a debate in the Constitutional Affairs Committee (AFCO) yesterday on whether the European Parliament should call upon the European Council not to examine the proposed amendment of the Treaties to take account of Protocol 30* in respect of the application of the Charter of Fundamental Rights to the Czech Republic.
"There are superficially compelling arguments in favour of this proposal:
1. the Czech Government has been rather half hearted in its application and has pursued it: - (a) because it feels that it should not be denied what the European Council has promised it; and - (b) because it does not wish to be seen as indecisive.
2. (The second compelling argument is) that it is very unlikely that the two chambers of the Czech Parliament will ratify the Protocol with the necessary qualified majorities.
3. The Court of Justice decided in N.S. against the U.K. Home Secretary in December 2011 that the Protocol: did not exempt Poland or the UK from the obligation to comply with the Charter or prevent the courts in those member states from ensuring compliance with it.
"However, the Advocate General had earlier said that the Charter did not shift power at the expense of the UK or Poland, whatever that might mean.
"I do not think that the first two reasons are at all convincing. We cannot avoid fulfilling an obligation, because we believe that the promisee does not wish to make use of that obligation. For as long as the promisee asks for it to be fulfilled, the promissor must fulfil its side of the bargain.
"The third reason can be summed up as saying that we should not feel obliged to provide something that is probably of little substance and is probably of only nominal value. That is the equivalent of saying that obligations to pay nominal values are of no effect. Yes they are. The obligation remains. Furthermore, the Court of Justice has only said what the Protocol is not; it has not defined what it is, so we do not know the extent of its nominal value.
"The Protocol was apparently agreed at an Inter-institutional Conference in 2007 and the European Council was an important element in that Conference. It is not for the Parliament to tell the European Council to renege on its obligations.
"However, a failure of this proposal will not be that the European Council will take steps to amend the Treaties. It will simply be that the European Council will have to consider doing so. Perhaps during that consideration we can unearth what the Protocol means and what was the intent behind it.
"Mr. Duff in his last paragraph expresses his dismay at there being any possibility that the scope of the Charter might be limited. However, until and unless the question is considered we will not know."
Andrew's explanation and Comment:
* Before the Parliaments of the United Kingdom and Poland ratified the Lisbon Treaty, they insisted that a 'Protocol 30' was attached to the Treaty to indicate that there was a different application of the Charter of Fundamental Rights to those countries.
The UK Prime Minister at the time, Tony Blair, described Protocol 30 as an 'opt-out'. When the Czech Republic later ratified the Lisbon Treaty, it demanded that the same protocol should be attached to the Treaty. However, in the meanwhile there has been a case before the European Court of Justice in which it was decided that Protocol 30 did not constitute an 'opt-out'. The response of those who were never in favour of the Protocol is to say that the Protocol does not now need to be considered by the European Council (heads of government and state).
My response is to say that the UK Parliament's ratification of the Lisbon Treaty was obtained by a falsehood from Mr. Blair that Protocol 30 was an 'opt-out'. If the European Council should be persuaded to consider the Treaty changes to incorporate the Protocol, that trickery would be exposed.
12th July 2012: This contribution from Andrew Brons was to a debate in the Constitutional Affairs Committee (AFCO) yesterday on The European Union 2013 General Budget.
"Mr. Guerrero in the second of his six suggestions says that there should be a special budget heading to inform citizens of their voting rights and to inform them of the issues at stake. This afternoon we have heard that we should also tell voters of the achievements of the European Union, though not presumably of its failures.
"It should be the function of the electoral authorities to tell people of their voting rights.
"It is certainly not a proper use of Parliamentary money to tell people what the issues ought to be. That is the function of the parties and the candidates.
"If the purpose is to encourage people to vote, I would say that, in most European countries, voting is a right and not a duty. Something cannot be a right and a duty at the same time. Abstention is a legitimate choice.
"It should be the function of each party and its candidates to persuade people to vote and, in particular, to vote for that party. It is not for public institutions to tell people to vote and it is not a proper use of public money to persuade them to do so."
19th June 2012: This morning at the European Parliament in Brussels, Andrew Brons made the following speech during a debate in the Constitutional Affairs Committee (AFCO0 on The Application of the Charter of Fundamental Rights to the Czech Republic*.
"I do not want to involve myself in the internal debate among citizens of the Czech Republic as to whether or not Protocol 30 ought to have been attached to the Treaty before the Czech Republic ratified it. That is their business and not mine.
"It is true that we have often discussed this subject before, as well as the Protocol being attached to the Treaties signed by the United Kingdom and Poland. However, the discussions have always been inconclusive. "Before we decide anything, we must decide what the Protocol means. We appear to know what the Protocol is not but not what it is!
"Whilst it appears that Protocol is not an 'opt-out', which is not in itself a very clear concept, it is by no means clear what it is.
"In the Court of Appeal, in 'NS v. Home Secretary' the representative of the British Government said that it was "not to prevent the Charter from applying in the United Kingdom but to explain its effect". Whatever does that mean? Well, it means that it is not something that does not have a legal definition!
"The Advocate General Trstenjak said the Protocol was not an 'opt out' but it (the Protocol) makes clear that the Charter did not shift powers at the expense of the UK or Poland. What does that mean? "Catherine Barnard, from Trinity College Cambridge, in her presentation to the Florence Conference, gave three possible meanings of the Protocol, which I shall not outline here, but hers was a legal opinion and not a judgment.
"What is certain is that the former Prime Minister, Mr. Blair, told the House of Commons on 25th June 2007 that the United Kingdom had an 'opt-out, which means either that he believed that we had an 'opt-out' or wished others to believe that he believed that we had an 'opt-out' whatever an 'opt-out' might be.
"Presumably the Intergovernmental Conference that agreed that Protocol 30 should apply to the United Kingdom's and Poland's accession to the Lisbon Treaty did not think that it was attaching something without meaning to the Treaty. If members of the Conference did think that, they would have been guilty of a most shocking act of deception.
"Surely it is for the European Union to find a legal instrument that does indeed have the effect that the members of the Intergovernmental Conference thought the Protocol had and offer it to the Governments of the United Kingdom, Poland and the Czech Republic."
* The Governments of the United Kingdom, Poland and the President of the Czech Republic insisted on Protocol 30 being attached to the Treaty of Lisbon before they agreed to its ratification.
The British Prime Minister, at the time, Tony Blair told the House of Commons that Protocol 30 provided the United Kingdom with an 'opt-out' from the Charter of Fundamental Rights. This was a crucial point for some M.P.s when voting on the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty.
Indeed the wording of the Protocol in Article 1(1) precluded the courts of those countries or the courts of the European Union from finding that those countries' laws, regulations or administrative provisions were inconsistent with the Charter. Article 1(2) stated that Title IV of the Charter which contained economic and social rights did not create justiciable rights (which presumably means rights that can be enforced by individuals in civil actions).
I have been asking for two years whether or not the so-called opt-outs were valid. The 2011 case, referred to in my speech, seemed to find that were not valid as 'opt-outs' but did not say what they were!
19th June 2012: Yesterday afternoon Andrew Brons spoke during a debate in the Constitutional Affairs Committee (AFCO) on whether the right of individual MEPs to initiate Written Declarations (a sort of petition limited to MEPs) should be restricted or even abolished.
He told the Committee members:
"I am not somebody who abuses the right to initiate Written Declarations. I have only ever initiated one, although I have signed several others from members of a variety of political groups, with some of which I would not normally be expected to have political sympathy.
"Written Declarations are a form of free expression and our default position should always be against restricting or suppressing free expression. There are some limited grounds on freedom of expression might be objected to:
"Particular Written Declarations might be considered harmful or offensive. However, that is not a justified objection, because the President of the Parliament can refuse authorisation.
"There might be an objection that they are expensive but there is no evidence for this. If there were evidence of expense, I am sure that they could be handled more cheaply electronically.
"It might be said that they hold up the business of the Parliament but they do not, because they can be ignored. The lobbying for Written Declarations can be annoying and that issue might be addressed. Mr. Duff wrote of offensive tee-shirts but I have not seen any; I shall have to look more keenly in future.
"A fourth objection is that most Written Declarations are unsuccessful. My answer to that would be, 'So what!'. That does not mean that they are without value. Many reforms that are eventually successful started as pet projects of a minority - in some cases a minority of one - but they later become agreed by consensus: votes for women; the abolition of slavery; the abolition of cruel and unusual punishments to name but a few.
"The restriction of legislative proposals and possibly Written Declarations to those with the support of people from three political groups is another way of saying that individual members have no right of initiative - that those without the support of people from three political groups are second class members of this Parliament."
19th June 2012: This week it is 'the Committees' at the European Parliament in Brussels and yesterday afternoon Andrew Brons made the following contribution to a debate in the Constitutional Affairs Committee (AFCO) on The European Union becoming a signatory to the Council of Europe's European Convention of Human Rights*
"A question that people from all political positions ask (this is not confined to critics of the EU) is:
"What difference will the EU's accession to the Convention make, in view of the fact that all members of the EU are also members of the Council of Europe and therefore signatories, as individual states, to the Convention on Human Rights.
"One difference would appear to be that the Council of Europe's Convention on Human Rights will also become European Union law.
"This is not necessary because from 1950 until 2000 (when the Human Rights Act came into operation), the United Kingdom was a signatory to the Convention without it being United Kingdom law. However, I have been told that it WILL become EU law.
"This means that the Convention will be enforceable in member state courts when EU law is being considered and in the European Court of Justice.
"However, it will presumably be enforceable in the European Court of Human Rights in any case in which the validity of EU law or the rulings of the ECJ are called into question for being at variance with the Convention."
* The Council of Europe is a body that is quite distinct from the European Union and predates it by eight years. The Lisbon Treaty, implemented in 2009, provided that the European Union must become a member of the Council of Europe and become a signatory to its Convention on Human Rights. I have asked on several occasions what the effect of this will be but I have never received a clear and satisfactory answer.
30th May 2012: This morning at the European Parliament in Brussels, Andrew Brons spoke to a debate in the Constitutional Affairs Committee (AFCO) on Multi-Tier Governance*.
"We are charged with the task of looking at the institutional or constitutional problems or anomalies of multi-tier governance, without looking at the substantive policies, as though the problem were simply a constitutional or institutional one. It seems to imply that if the constitutional or institutional problem were to be solved, the substantive policy problems would disappear.
"However, the substantive issue that has been at the heart of the discussion this morning - consideration of whether decisions should be taken by representatives of the seventeen, the twenty-five or the twenty-seven - is the issue of the Euro-zone and the related issues of the Fiscal Compact and the European Stability Mechanism. This issue has affected unanimity and created anomalies since the Maastricht Treaty, which provided the United Kingdom with its opt-out from the single currency.
"The problem of the Euro is not a constitutional one; it is an economic one. One external currency value cannot be appropriate for seventeen very different economies. That is the root of the problem and it requires an economic solution: in my view, dissolution of the whole of the Euro-zone.
"The problems of the Euro-zone cannot be solved or even papered over by constitutional tinkering. The danger of looking at a substantive problem from a constitutional perspective is that it blinds us to the reality of the underlying problem.
"There are institutional and constitutional problems of which the Rapporteur has spoken very clearly - whether matters related to the Euro should be discussed by the seventeen members of the Euro-zone, the twenty five supporters of the Fiscal Pact or the twenty-seven members of the European Union. They are real problems but they are not at the root of the problems relating to the Euro."
* Multi-Tier Governance was explained by the Rapporteur, Mr. Galtieri, as decision-making that could be conducted at different levels such as: - matters that might be decided by the Eurozone or by the EU as a whole; - matters that might be decided by the EU or by the member states; and - matters that might be decided by the official institutions of the EU or by organisations that are outside the EU but linked to it such as the European Stability Mechanism.
30th May 2012: Yesterday afternoon at the European Parliament in Brussels, Andrew Brons spoke during a debate in the Constitutional Affairs Committee (AFCO) on the Handling by the European Parliament of Classified Information held by the Council.
"The Report says that security clearance will not(have to be) be requested for Members for documents up to the level of 'EU Confidential'. This clearly implies that security clearance for Members will have to be requested for documents that go beyond the level 'EU Confidential'.
"What sort of matters are likely to be at or beyond the EU Confidential level?
"What is the process of security clearance?
"What will be the criteria for passing or failing to pass security clearance?
"Need we ask?
"The Report says that access will be given, depending on the dossier, either to: rapporteurs and shadow rapporteurs; or to all committee members.
"What sort of dossiers will be confined to rapporteurs or shadow rapporteurs and therefore excluded from other committee members?"
Response From the Rapporteur, Mr. Häfner:
He said that the Council decided the classification of such documents and that the Parliament had to follow its classification of a document. However, he did not attempt to explain what sort of matters would be in the category that was higher than EU Confidential or what sort of matters would be revealed to Rapporteurs and Shadow Rapporteurs but not to ordinary committee members.
His assistant explained to me privately that the different classifications were specified and explained in Regulation 1049 (2001). She said that whilst there was a procedure for deciding disputes between the Commission and the Parliament on the classification of a document, there was no procedure for deciding a dispute between the Council and the Parliament on the classification of a document.
We need to know what sorts of matters are being kept from ordinary MEPs who are outside of the Political Class.
30th May 2012: In his second contribution of yesterday afternoon, Andrew Brons spoke during a debate in the Constitutional Affairs Committee (AFCO) on the Languages in which Verbatim Reports should be written.
"Mr. Illchev was faced with the dilemma of not knowing whether to address the need for economy or the need to conform to the principle of multilingualism - that there should be no hierarchy among the official languages.
"He managed, not simply to address the need for economy but to advance it, without sacrificing multilingualism. He must be congratulated*. "A caricature of me might be of somebody who recognised only two languages: English; and Foreign. In fact I have worked hard over the years to achieve an astonishing lack of proficiency in several languages.
"You might think that I would relish the idea of English fast becoming the lingua franca of the European Union, as well as of other international bodies. I don't.
"I would prefer my language to be one national language among many, although one that we must share with several other nationalities, rather than one that has been relegated to being a rationalised international medium of communication.
"Apart from anything else, it would be embarrassing for all concerned if Britain were to take itself out of the European Union but leaves its language behind like a calling card from a former acquaintance."
* Mr. Illchev proposed that instead of verbatim reports being available in the original language and English, they should be available initially only in the original language (although they would be available in other languages on request). He suggested this change both on the grounds of reduced cost and on the ground that it would remove the pre-eminence of English. I supported his proposal because I want English to be restored to the status of our national language and to cease to be merely a medium of international communication.
One member of the Committee seemed to think that I had understood Mr. Illchev to be proposing that English should be the lingua franca of the EU. I did not believe that and I think that I made that quite clear.
30th May 2012: Yesterday afternoon at the European Parliament in Brussels, Andrew Brons made the following contribution to a debate in the Constitutional Affairs Committee (AFCO) on Minimum Quality Standards to be respected by all EU Institutions.
"There was an unusually frank admission at the beginning of the Report. It says:
"A pressing problem of the European Union today is that the citizens question its legitimacy".
Frank but not, I am afraid, frank enough. Many people in the United Kingdom do not question its legitimacy; they deny its legitimacy - a much stronger and less ambiguous judgment.
Furthermore, legitimacy is not denied because EU services are not supplied with enough of a smile or because they do not conform to minimum quality standards. The objections are much more fundamental.
People want to be told the truth - that if Document A is the same as Document B when it plainly is and is admitted to be behind closed doors, then that fact should be admitted publicly.
People want promises to be kept. If they are promised a referendum, they must be given a referendum.
People want to live in peace and friendship with their neighbours. It is not only Eurocrats who think that another European War would be inconceivable and unacceptable. However, they do not want to be ruled by or with those neighbours.
There is much to be commended in Mrs. Jäätteemäki's report: She says that documents should be clear and easy to understand. What a revolutionary thing to say, in the context of the EU, and she is quite right to do so!"
Response from Eurocrats:
One Eurocrat tried to suggest that because I judged that people's denial of the EU's legitimacy was more fundamental than unhappiness with EU's quality of service, I had not read the report. I had read it thoroughly and agreed with some of it. However, I believed that its author had misunderstood and underestimated the public's disillusionment with the European Union.