26th April 2012: Yesterday at the European Parliament in Brussels, Andrew Brons made his second AFCO contribution of the afternoon during a debate on an address from Vice President Reding on Communication of 'information' about the European Union.
"One of the first votes that I took part in with this Committee was about two and a half years ago. The substantive motion called for more money to be spent on informing the public about the benefits of EU membership.
"The ECR members and the EFD member proposed what I thought was a perfectly reasonable amendment suggesting that people should be informed of the benefits and the detriments of EU membership. The amendment was defeated overwhelmingly. Either those who voted it down thought that EU membership had no detriments or they thought that the detriments should not be exposed to public view.
"One-sided partial information is not really information at all; it is propaganda. For private organisations and individuals to publish and spend money on propaganda is perfectly acceptable. For the EU to spend public money in pro-EU propaganda is quite unacceptable.
"Does it matter? Yes! In the recent referendum in Croatia EU propaganda paid for and published by the EU swamped the arguments put forward by the two sets of protagonists.
"There is a belief common among Europhiles that opposition to the European Union Project can be motivated only by ignorance of its benefits. Ignorance and Opposition can be dispelled at one fell swoop by propaganda dressed up as information - directed not just at discerning adults but even at children which is not acceptable."
26th April 2012: Yesterday afternoon at the European Parliament in Brussels, Andrew Brons made the following contribution to a debate in the Constitutional Affairs Committee (AFCO) with a Vice President of the Commission, Mr. Sefcovic, on (among other things) the public funding of European political parties.
Andrew told the Committee:
"With regard to the criterion for deciding whether European political parties should be funded from public funds, I think that we should ditch the pretence of arriving at an objective judgment on the basis of so-called European values. Instead, we could insist that they should not be parties disapproved of by the Political Class.
"If we were to express ourselves less elegantly but perhaps more honestly, we could add a paragraph 7 to Rule 209 in the European Parliament's Rules of Procedure as follows:
"Only members of the Political Class shall be allowed to put their trotters into the financial trough".
18th April 2012: This was a contribution from Andrew Brons to a debate in the Constitutional Affairs Committee (AFCO) yesterday afternoon on the Application of the Charter of Fundamental Rights to the Czech Republic*
(The AFCO meeting included several representatives from the Czech Parliament. Many of these objected to the fact that the Czech President had sought the protocol against their wishes).
"I do not want to intrude into the debate among Czechs as to whether the Czech President was right to seek the Protocol. That is their business. However, the process by which the Protocol was negotiated is our business.
"However, I am concerned that the governments of the United Kingdom, Poland and later the President of the Czech Republic were told that the countries concerned had some sort of exemption from the Charter of Fundamental Rights**. I know that there are objections to the words 'opt-out' but they were used by our guest the Vice President of the Czech Senate.
"The question is: Who led them to that conclusion? Did the person or persons do so in good faith?
"If Mr. Duff is correct in saying that the Court of Justice has now endorsed the decision of the Advocate General (I presume that this was in the case of Mr. N.S. an Afghan citizen - Mr. Duff nodded) and ruled that the Protocol had no validity, it would mean that the British Parliament (and I presume the Polish Parliament) were misled into voting to ratify the Lisbon Treaty. Whether they were misled dishonestly or by honest mistake remains to be seen.
"What we know is that assent to the Lisbon Treaty was secured, at best, by an untruth and, at worst, by dishonesty." _____________________________________________________________________
* This concerns a 'protocol' attached to the Lisbon Treaty that was believed to provide the Czech Republic (and Poland and the United Kingdom) with some kind of exemption from the Charter of Fundamental Rights, which the Lisbon Treaty applied to all member states.
** The United Kingdom wanted to avoid being subject to employment rights enshrined in the Charter. Poland wanted to avoid its family laws from being declared null and void by the Charter. The Czech President wanted to avoid the Charter being used by Germans from the Czech Republic (or their descendants) reclaiming land from which they were expelled after the Second World War under the Benes Decrees.
20th March 2012: In Andrew Brons' second speech of the day, the bite comes in the final paragraph on the Tyranny of the Majority, which was a concept popularised by the French political thinker and historian Alexis de Toqueville (1805-59). Andrew's contribution was made during a debate in the Constitutional Affairs Committee (AFCO) on amending the Parliament's rules of procedure with regard to the implementation of citizens' initiatives*.
He told fellow MEPs:
"I should be grateful if you would clarify some of the contents of the Explanatory Statement in the Report from Mrs. Gormai.
"The report says: "If the conditions in Article 10(1) a & b are fulfilled, the organisers shall (in the imperative mood) be given the opportunity to present the Citizens' Initiative at a public hearing".
"However, the report says, at an earlier stage:
"Parliament will be able to help achieve a Citizens' Initiative it likes, in particular by organising public hearings".
"Does this sentence (with the qualifying words, it likes) refer to citizens' initiatives that just fail to fulfil the criteria in 10(1) a & b, referred to on the last page of the Explanatory Statement. There is a reference to citizens' initiatives that cannot be submitted to the Commission, "since not all of the procedures and conditions have been complied with".
"Should the Parliament have complete discretion? There is a danger of majoritarian tyranny that could be used to suppress a request for a public hearing on behalf of a citizens' initiative that almost satisfies the criteria and has a substantial minority of MEPs."
* Citizens' Initiatives are similar to petitions calling for the Commission to initiate legislation. They are heavily regulated: they must not be 'frivolous'; they must not be inconsistent with European values; and they must not be 'against the interests of the EU. They need to have the support of a million or more signatories from a quarter of the countries (i.e. seven). Even if they are successful, the Commission can still refuse to legislate.
20th March 2012: This contribution from Andrew Brons to a debate in the Constitutional Affairs Committee (AFCO) on changes to rules of procedure of the Parliament with regard to the 'Ordinary Legislative Procedure', was given this morning at the European Parliament in Brussels.
"We have been invited to look at Rule 70 with regard to achieving effectiveness, transparency, and inclusiveness. I hope that I shall not hurt anybody's feelings and get them reaching for their handkerchiefs when I say that I do not really care about the effectiveness or efficiency of the ordinary legislative procedure. However I am concerned about transparency and inclusiveness of the whole parliament.
"If we really want to achieve transparency, we should ensure that all negotiations should take place in a formal setting. There should be a rule to ensure that none should take place informally and that all meetings are web-streamed. Furthermore, all meetings of co-ordinators are web-streamed so that those of us in the Non-Attached, who are singled out for exclusion (not inclusion), can have access not only to the decisions (we are already informed of those), but also to the arguments that led to those decisions.
"I quote from the report: "If negotiations lead to a compromise with the Council, committee co-ordinators should be informed immediately, so that all political groups are aware."
"That of course excludes those of us who are in the Non-Attached(not being members of recognised political groups).
"Sometimes amendments are changed in committee and re-grouped in the plenary and we find out about them too late.
"We must ensure that transparency and inclusiveness are principles to which we adhere and are not mere fashion attachments."
20th March 2012: In his second contribution of yesterday afternoon at the European parliament in Brussels, Andrew Brons spoke during a debate held in the Constitutional Affairs Committee (AFCO) on the European Union Budget.
"In the text approved by the plenary last week, further political and economic integration is presented as the means by which a particular objective - in this case bringing an end to the economic and budgetary crisis - is to be achieved.
"Funnily enough, it is the same remedy that is provided for all ills whatever they might be. Of course, the reality is that further political and economic integration is an end in itself. The economic crisis or any other ostensible objective is simply the pretext - the vehicle - for European integration.
"In fact, political and economic integration is not effective in combating the economic crisis. It will aggravate that crisis.
"A single currency value is highly unlikely to be suitable for seventeen very different economies. It is far too high for the Southern countries and too low for Germany, That does not harm Germany but it does allow it to import employment from the South or, if you like, export unemployment to the South.
"A single interest rate is also unlikely to be suitable for seventeen different economies.
"The adoption of neo-liberal free-trade policies leaves European industry open to attack from the dumping policies of emerging economies, particularly China with its deliberately impoverished work-force and its under-valued currency.
"The report refers to things that the European Union might do for small and medium-sized businesses. In the case of small and micro-businesses, the best regulation that should be provided is none at all. Businesses with a tiny number of employees can be destroyed by employment laws that allow self-evidently vexatious employment cases to last for months, if not years, and to cost thousands before any opportunity to have them struck out."
20th March 2012: Yesterday afternoon at the European Parliament in Brussels, Andrew Brons spoke during to a debate held in the Constitutional Affairs Committee (AFCO) on the application of the Charter of Fundamental Rights to the Czech Republic and to the Treaty on European Union and to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union*.
The British National Party MEP for Yorkshire and the Humber said:
"It is important to identify what is certain and where lies the uncertainty. To put it another way, we must state clearly not only what is clear but also what is unclear.
"It is clear that the protocol that purported to affect the application of the Charter of Fundamental Rights to the United Kingdom and Poland was secured during the negotiations leading up to the signing of the Lisbon Treaty. It is also clear that heads of government of both countries regarded the securing of the protocol to be relevant to the decision of those countries to sign the Lisbon Treaty.
"It was also seen to be relevant to a significant (but unrecorded) number of members of the British Parliament (and probably the Polish Parliament) who agreed to ratify the Treaty because the protocol had been secured. Indeed Tony Blair said on 25th June 2007:
"It is absolutely clear that we have an opt-out from both the Charter of Fundamental Rights and from judicial and home affairs".
"In October 2009, the European Council promised to amend the protocol so that it would apply to the Czech Republic in the insistence of the Czech president who would sign the Lisbon Treaty only after being given that promise.
"What is also clear is the wording of the protocol:
Article 1(1) precludes the domestic courts of the two (eventually three) countries) and the EU courts from finding that law, regulations or administrative provisions, practices and actions in the countries to which it applies are inconsistent with the Charter. Article 1(2) states that Title IV of the Charter (containing economic and social rights) does not create justiciable rights, which I interpret to means enforceable by individuals.
"What is less clear is the legal effect of the protocols and whether the heads of government collectively who passed the protocol and the heads of government of the UK and Poland and the head of state of the Czech Republic knew that there was some doubt about their validity. Indeed did any of them care about their validity. Did the piece of paper containing the protocol simply serve to extricate the heads of state or government generally and of the three heads of state or government in particular from a difficult situation. The object was to secure the agreement of the Lisbon Treaty and perhaps nobody cared about the honesty or otherwise of the words used.
"We know that Advocate General Trstenjak in Case C-411/10 said the provisions of the Charter apply without restriction in the legal systems of the United Kingdom (and presumably Poland). In other words that the Protocols are without any validity.
"Catherine Barnard, of Trinity College, Cambridge suggests that Article 1(1) of the Protocol has three possible meanings: 1. that the principles and rights of the Charter apply only where the law of the member state is implementing EU law and not when it is passing law in an area where the EU has no competence. 2. that where the Charter goes beyond national law, the provisions of the Charter will not be used to review national law. and 3. that it will prevent the Charter from being used even to challenge national law that is implementing EU law. However, she said that the third interpretation was the least likely of the three interpretations to be true.
"What all of this muddle means is that it is vital that the European Council should convene a Convention at which the meaning of the Protocol is agreed and explained clearly and that that meaning is consistent with the stated beliefs of the European Council members at the time, which were not challenged then and should not be challenged now.
"Honesty demands that countries that signed and ratified the Lisbon Treaty in the belief held by their peoples and Parliamentarians and possibly by their governments that they had some sort of exemption from the Charter, are entitled to have that exemption. Otherwise, their signatures to, and ratification of, the Lisbon Treaty will have been obtained by a subterfuge."
Andrew made another contribution to the same debate (in response to suggestions that some Czech Parliamentarians should be consulted before the decision is taken about whether to call a convention on the Czech Protocol, he said:
"The Czech Republic has of course the right to ask to withdraw from the Protocol. However, it is not for us (in this Committee) to invite selected Czech Parliamentarians for consultation and then take the decision for them. It is for both Houses of the Czech Parliament to take that decision."
*This was about whether to call a 'convention' to implement a 'protocol' that would (allegedly) have provided the Czech Republic with some sort of exemption from the Charter of Fundamental Rights.
28th February 2012: Andrew Brons spoke this morning during a debate at the European Parliament in Brussels on a proposal NOT to call a Convention of member states on Ireland's concerns about the Lisbon Treaty*.
"It seems that the European Council gave assurances, quite dishonestly, to the Irish people, in order to secure a 'Yes' vote in the second referendum. Where was Croatia's second referendum, I ask myself, but that is another matter.
"It now considers those assurances to be legally binding or claims to believe them to be binding and therefore does not consider that it is necessary to call a conference (or convention) of member states under Article 48 of the Treaty for the Functioning of the European Union**, to discuss a protocol enshrining those guarantees***. I think that we have heard all of this sort of thing before.
"The United Kingdom Government, the Polish Government and (later) the Czech Government were all given assurances that the Charter of Fundamental Rights would not apply completely to them. Indeed, Article 1(1) of the Protocol precluded the domestic courts in Poland and the UK and the EU's court from finding that laws, regulations or administrative provisions, practices or action, in the countries to which it applied, were inconsistent with the Charter.
"We now know, from case C-411 of 2010, involving Mr. NS, an Afghan citizen, that the assurances in the Protocol were worthless. The answer to the problem of a worthless protocol is not to attach a protocol at all. The answer to the problem of being caught out lying is that next time you say nothing in writing.
"It would appear that the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty of no fewer than four countries was secured by dishonesty, which means that the Lisbon Treaty has lost whatever moral authority it ever had.
"The willingness of the European Council comprising heads of governments and heads of state to make worthless assurances, brings to mind a former head of state and head of government of a certain mid-European country, who remarked in 1938 about Mr. Chamberlain after he had left:
"The nice old man wanted my autograph so I gave it to him".
"The Irish Government was, at best, naive and, at worst, dishonest, when addressing the Irish people. In the end there will be no areas of public policy that will remain untouched by EU legislation. The EU Project will not be complete until all of the laws of all member sates are ultimately subject to EU law."
* It will be recalled that when Ireland was first called upon to ratify the Lisbon Treaty by referendum, the Irish people voted 'No'. In response, the European Council promised the Irish people that at the time of the conclusion of the next accession treaty, a reassurance on their concerns about the concerns of the Irish people in relation to the right to life, family and education, taxation and security and defence would be set out in a protocol to be attached to the Treaty on European Union and the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union as clarifications of the provisions of the Treaty of Lisbon with respect to Irish concerns. This promise resulted in a 'Yes' vote in the second referendum.
**Andrew referred to Article 48 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (The Rome Treaty), when he should have referred to Article 48 of the Treaty on European Union (the Maastricht Treaty). Yes, Andrew made a mistake!!!
*** On the right to life, family and education, taxation, security and defence.
28th February 2012: In his second contribution of the week, Andrew Brons spoke during a debate in the Constitutional Affairs Committee (AFCO) on a proposal that 2013 should be 'The European Year of Citizens'.
The British National Party MEP for Yorkshire and the Humber said:
"European Union citizenship is quite unlike the citizenship of states that admit to being states (the EU pretends not to be one), in that it is acquired by the route of being a citizen of a member state.
"It is problematic in that it might produce conflicting loyalties, especially for a British Citizen who has acquired additional loyalties such as those of a Privy Councillor or those of a monarch of one of the eight member states that are constitutional monarchies. Our Queen, apart from her part-time job as Queen Elizabeth II is also apparently a European Union citizen.
"EU citizenship is usually presented as though it were an unmitigated blessing, with rights and freedoms galore, but the duties of which are unstated.
"When I first heard that 2013 was to be the Year of the Citizen, my heart leapt - Yes, I know that you find that hard to believe - because I thought that the English legal principle, The Expression of One Thing Implies the Exclusion of Another might apply to it, so that if 2013 were to be the Year of the Citizen, the years 2014, 2015 and so on might not be. I am afraid that I was too optimistic.
"One feature of particular citizenships is the procedure by which citizenship might be lost or renounced deliberately. It would appear that EU citizenship is based on a contracting-out system, similar to the one that applies to trade union contributions to political parties in Britain. You pay unless you complete a form saying that you do not want to do so.
"However, in that case, there is at least a form that you can complete to avoid paying. However, there does not appear to be a form to complete to renounce EU citizenship. I am sure that millions of British people and the citizens* and nationals* of other member states, would queue up to renounce their European Union citizenship. However, I suspect that the form remains unpublished or is in the bottom drawer of a filing cabinet in the basement of the Commission."
* There is a difference. Nationality is acquired by descent, whereas citizenship is acquired by accident of birth or legal contrivance.
28th April 2012: Andrew Brons is at the European Parliament in Brussels this week and yesterday afternoon he made this contribution to a debate, held in the Constitutional Affairs Committee (AFCO), on a proposal to restrict and, perhaps, eventually abolish written declarations*.
"The Rapporteur judges written declarations on the basis of two criteria: 1. Do they set the agenda of EU institutions? and 2. Do they influence decisions taken by those institutions?
The answer to both questions is clearly 'No' and so, if we were to accept the Rapporteur's criteria, they would have to go. However, I do not accept the Rapporteur's criteria. The agenda of all EU institutions is set by the Political Class and the eventual decisions of all institutions are those of that Class.
If expressions of opinion on matters that are unlikely to be placed on the agenda are a waste of time and if the expression of opinions that are doomed to be minority opinions from the moment that they are uttered are a waste of time, then some of us were assured of wasting our time from the moment that we were elected until the expiry of our mandate.
However, I do not accept that expressions of opinions that are in a minority in a particular legislature on a particular date, are a waste of time. Opinions that are now in a minority are not certain always to be so. Some landmark decisions in the legislatures of the world: independence for dependent countries; the abolition of slavery; a complete adult franchise; and reform of conditions in the work place were all once minority opinions and indeed considered to be eccentric opinions, in the legislatures of all leading countries.
Written declarations play a small part, perhaps a very small part, in airing minority opinions that would otherwise not see the light of day. However, they can still be worthwhile.
Ill-treated Ukrainian dogs, murdered South African farmers, property owners on the Spanish Costas and small-scale British sheep farmers would all be considered low priorities by the European Political Class but they might be noticed in a written declaration."
*Written declarations are rather similar to a House of Commons 'early day motion'. They are statements, proposed by a small group of MEPs, to which other MEPs are invited to attach their signatures. They could be seen as joint statements of opinion about a possible future decision.