21st June 2012: Yesterday afternoon at the European Parliament in Brussels, Andrew Brons made the following speech during a debate in the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee (LIBE) on The State of Fundamental Rights in the European Union.
"Positive self-image is not just important for individuals. It is also necessary for institutions - especially those that see themselves as having a role in the world.
"The European Union is not a humble institution. It could not be described as an institution with an inferiority complex. There is no doubt that it sees itself as being incontrovertibly on the side of virtue and that its sees its opponents as both morally and intellectually flawed.
"It sees itself as being on the side of democracy, justice, freedom and the Rule of Law.
"It is certainly true that most member states and the EU are not, for the most part, crude dictatorships - states in which the authorities break their own laws to act against their opponents. The behaviour of the police of the police in Hungary in 2006 was a notable exception. We encountered a equivalent but different breaches in Leeds in 1978 and 1983.
"They are, for the most part, countries that, "rule according to the law". However, there is a subtle distinction between that and abiding by the Rule of Law. When laws are skewed so that they are drafted so that only their opponents can be caught by them - almost like the most selective of fishing devices - that is "rule according to the law," but not quite in keeping with the spirit of the Rule of Law.
"In Belgium in 2004 one of the largest parties in Flanders, the Vlaams Blok was banned, forcing it to change its name and even some of its programme.
"In Germany in 2003 there was an attempt to ban a small political party, the NPD, which failed in the Constitutional Court. Why did it fail? Because the incriminating statements and actions on which the banning attempt depended were discovered to be the statements and actions of admitted state agents who had infiltrated the Party. In other words the German Security Services had fabricated evidence against a small political party and had been discovered to have done so by the Constitutional Court. That should have resulted not just in the failure of the action to ban this Party, which did result. It should also have resulted in the prosecution of the heads of the Security Services and their political masters.
"There are laws - some of them inspired by EU laws - to ban non-violent freedom of speech in several EU countries. Indeed there was advocacy only a couple of months ago by an EU Commissioner to bring a prosecution against a Dutch political party because of the content of its website. Action is taken in several member states to prosecute and gaol people for non-violent political speech or heretical speech on academic subjects.
"The most recent example was France which made it a criminal offence to deny that the killing of Armenians by the Turks in 1915 was genocide, which was an almost exact mirror image of a law in Turkey that made it a criminal offence to say that it was genocide. If you were a history teacher who taught in both countries, you would be potentially in real trouble.
"Countries that do that sort of thing are not simply bad, they are quite mad and do not understand the nature of academic debate. The antidote to bad history is good history. In a free market of competitive ideas, good history drives out the bad.
"The irony of calling for people to be gaoled for thought crime in the name of Human Rights would be lost on Eurocrats. It would be like killing in the interests of peace or fornicating in support of chastity.
"The EU and its member states have got to look at themselves honestly in the mirror and see themselves as they really are: in some cases nasty, squalid autocracies that bully their citizens into obedience and acquiescence.
"Only when they have democratised themselves can they start preening themselves and strutting around the world, preaching to other countries about Freedom, Justice, Democracy and the Rule of Law."
20th June 2012: This morning at the European Parliament in Brussels, Andrew Brons contributed to a debate in the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee (LIBE) on A Proposed European Union Charter on Media Freedom.
He told his fellow MEPs on the Committee:
"The concept of Media Freedom is a wonderfully confused and contradictory one.
"Indeed perhaps it is not one concept but a collection of no fewer than three quite distinct and contradictory concepts: "1. Freedom of the media from interference by the state or perhaps by some other powerful entity "2. Freedom from the media - from media harassment. Of course, one person's unjustified harassment might, for another, be the media holding somebody to account with complete justification. "3. Freedom of access to the media - the right of those attacked by the media to have a right of reply or the right of participants to have fair coverage, especially during election campaigns.
"1. Freedom of the Media "The media should be free from discretionary control by the government of the day. However, that does not mean that monopolistic or near monopolistic media should be free from state as distinct from government regulation to prevent misuse of media power - to enforce a right of reply. Furthermore, it does not mean that the media should be free from civil remedies for defamation or criminal penalties to incitement of violence. However, we must not allow the criminal law to be framed to clamp down on specifically and criminalise a narrow range of opinion disapproved of by government and the Political Class.
"2. Freedom from the Media "Powerful political figures must be held accountable by the media but even the most powerful must be free from defamation and personal harassment. The poor, powerless and dispossessed must not be bullied by a predatory media. However, even the poor and powerless should be held to account for criminal or reprehensible wrong doing. What is necessary are legal challenges to damaging falsehood - defamation - that are accessible to people of ordinary means as well as the existence of statutory complaints systems.
"3. Freedom of access to the Media "Large scale and near-monopolistic media must have obligations to grant access to all participants - especially during election campaigns - and to grant a right of reply.
"There are many countries in Western Europe - supposedly free countries - in which the Political Class is systematically supported and promoted and opponents of that Class denigrated and ignored.
"Free elections are of no use if the media dominates the debate and determines both the issues and the front runners.
"Freedom to vote, without the freedom to speak and be heard and without the freedom to read and to hear, is only half a democracy . . . . . and half a democracy is no democracy at all.
"The great equaliser is the internet. I would rather have an unregulated internet, with all of its flaws and all of its imperfections, than a regulated internet or no internet at all.
"I am not, of course, in favour of EU legislation to regulate the media or anything else but I do favour external judgment and criticism, in this sphere more than almost any other."
20th June 2012: This morning at the European Parliament in Brussels, Andrew Brons made the following speech during a debate in the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee (LIBE) on The End of the (six month) Danish Presidency of the Council of the European Union.
"The Presidency of the Council, as often as not, presides over a programme written by others, rather than being responsible for decisions or even agenda of its own making.
"In particular, this Presidency was the heir to its pre-Lisbon predecessor, five presidencies ago, from two and a half years ago, the Swedish Presidency, which had more power than current presidencies and imposed its 2010-2014 Programme on its successors.
"A Common Asylum System was considered self-evidently necessary as though the word 'Common' were a necessity and as though the granting of 'asylum' were the natural outcome of any dealings with somebody seeking to enter the EU.
"Whether or not it is the natural outcome, it is certainly the inevitable outcome, as we heard recently from the Executive Director of Frontex, to the effect that de facto asylum was granted even to people who do not apply for it!
"The good news he imparted was that virtually 100% of the illegal immigrants entering Greece from Turkey were caught.
"The rather less welcome news was that that they were not detained for long but were released with a piece of paper telling them to leave the EU within so many days but not by any particular route and without any checks being carried out.
"And this is the same Danish Presidency that promised us in January an effective return policy! The energy, focus and efficiency that are certainly lacking from the 'returns policy' are not missing from the legal immigration policy. They would be granted smooth and non-bureaucratic access.
"We have heard this morning of the need to be concerned about vulnerable asylum seekers. I am more concerned about vulnerable host communities such as that as Lampedusa.
"You (the representative of the Danish Presidency) spoke this morning of avoiding detention for asylum seekers and facilitating access to work. Perhaps if we placed less emphasis on avoiding detention and on ensuring access to work, it would help to make a distinction between genuine asylum seekers and economic migrants."
1st June 2012: Yesterday morning at the European Parliament in Brussels, Andrew Brons made the following contribution to a debate in the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee (LIBE) on the Roma.
"The Roma seem to move in and out of fashion in the European Parliament. We have not heard of them for some time. I was beginning to get quite worried.
"I feel that the Roma are depersonalised in many documents and speeches. They are spoken about as a people who can have things done to them: discrimination; deprivation; impoverishment.
"They are also people who must have things done for them - provided with EU money.
"They are never credited with having done things for themselves or to themselves. Indeed they are not credited with having the capability of doing either.
"I don't know how many MEPs ever meet any Roma. Perhaps they occasionally see a picture of one on a chocolate box. I know two in Britain who have done very well for themselves.
"They do sometimes act very well for themselves, as I have mentioned. However, sometimes, they do things to themselves and to each other that are far from beneficial.
"Two years ago, we had a hearing in this Committee LIBE) about the human trafficking of women and girls and we had a representative from Europol. I asked him, rather cautiously, whether any population group was disproportionately represented among the traffickers and among the trafficked. His answer was clear and unambiguous. He said that the answer to both questions was the Roma. Roma men were trafficking Roma women and girls for prostitution.
"If you doubt that, when you are next in Strasbourg look at the Roma encampments outside the City to the East and you will see only a little down the road Roma girls standing by the side of the road. The authorities have done absolutely nothing about it.
"It was said earlier that the lives of the Roma were more similar to the lives of people in the Third World than to those of people in Europe. Perhaps that has something to do with the fact that they come originally from the Third World.
"There is a more general question. When you bring people to Europe from the Third World, do you change the people or do you change Europe?"
June 1st 2012: Yesterday morning at the European Parliament in Brussels, Andrew Brons responded to the Executive Director of Frontex, Mr. Ilkka Laitinen, after his presentation to the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee (LIBE).
"I found your talk very interesting though I would be interested to receive a written account of it because it provided many figures and details that need to be looked at. I was rather dazzled by the Classical code names for operations. I feel as though I have received in one morning a classical education that I missed. I sometimes find that there is an inverse correlation between impressive titles and substance but I am sure that that is not the case here.
"In your Programme of Work document you said that the number employed by Frontex in 2012 was only 313 and that included administrative staff yet you said that there were 1850 border guards. I presume that these come from three sources: the member state in which they are operating; staff seconded by the other twenty-one or twenty-two states who second people; and from Frontex itself. I should be grateful for some explanation here.
"You mentioned that there had been persistent high pressure from the border with Turkey. Presumably they are not mostly from Turkey itself. Where do they come from? You mentioned illegal immigration from North Africa. I believe that many of these come from Sub-Saharan Africa. Is that true?
"How many of those who are caught are returned? What proportion immediately claim asylum? You say that too many 'returnable' migrants are released. What percentage? Why?
"In the context of the return programmes, you mentioned that you have to find out where they come from and that many come 'undocumented'. Do they suffer any disadvantages from, or deterrents against, coming undocumented? Are they, for example, automatically refused asylum? It would surely be difficult for them to say that they should not be returned to their countries because they were too dangerous, when they had refused to say from which country they had come! Or are they released anyway?
"You mentioned a Memorandum of Understanding that had been signed with Turkey. What are its terms Does it simply provide a pledge from Turkey (that it would stop immigrants from entering the EU) or does it provide access to Turkey by Frontex?"
Reply by Mr. Laitenen:
He said that he would have to reply to most questions in writing because of time constraints. However, he did say that there were very few illegal migrants who entered the EU without being detected. However, the problems are with the post-entry procedures. He said that people could not be held indefinitely in the conditions in the detention centres, so they were usually released with an administrative document that gives them an order to leave within so many days. However, most do not leave and return home!
31st May 2012: Yesterday afternoon at the European Parliament in Brussels, Andrew Brons made the following contribution to a debate in the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee (LIBE) on a Common Asylum System.
He told the Committee:
"This is one of those debates in which the conclusion has already been decided in advance. The establishment of a Common European Asylum System has already been decided for 2012. Indeed, its three pillars have already been decided so we have little discretion - little to decide.
"I'll see if I can upset that cosy little assumption!
"Asylum seekers or refugees are people, who, fearing for their safety, decide to flee from their countries of origin or residence to a country where they will be safe.
"The European Union's land borders are mainly with other European countries, which are not considered to be the most dangerous and are not the countries of origin or last residence of most of the people who arrive in Europe as asylum seekers.
"This means that most asylum seekers in Europe have by-passed, flown over or passed through nearer safe countries on their way to Europe. Such people, even if they were originally genuine asylum seekers, have transformed themselves into migrants of choice - or economic migrants if you will - once they have passed the first safe country.
"People who are not genuine asylum seekers must be returned to their countries of origin or to the first safe country they passed through.
"Talk of solidarity or shared responsibility or burden sharing in relation to such people is superfluous. There is no burden to share."
31st May 2012: Yesterday afternoon at the European Parliament in Brussels, Andrew Brons made the following contribution to a debate in the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee (LIBE) on Lives Lost in the Mediterranean Sea.
"Who is to blame if seventy-two - Yes 72! - people set off across a dangerous sea route in a small - Yes Small! - rubber dingy?
"The author of this Resolution 1872 points the finger in a number of directions:
"Firstly, it is directed at the Libyan militia who escorted them to the boat. Yes, if they were going to expel them, they should have done so in a different direction - to the South, where they came from. However, there is no evidence that they were kidnapped in Sub-Saharan Africa and then brought to Libya. They brought themselves and I imagine that they had not planned to settle in war-torn Libya; they were heading for Europe, the Land of Milk and Honey. Therefore, they cannot escape just a little of the blame being attached to the adults among them them.
Secondly, it is directed at various fishing vessels, military vessels and a military helicopter. Their failure to rescue them is quite reprehensible However, they presumably did so in the knowledge that if they did they and their countries would have responsibility thrust upon them as a result of the Hirsi v. Italy judgment.
"The blame belongs first and foremost to those who travel to Europe for economic reasons and impose moral blackmail on their rescuers to grant them asylum.
"It rests even more heavily on any human traffickers who are profiting from the poverty and desperation for improvement of the World's poor.
"It rests most heavily on the political and judicial authorities in Europe and internationally who reward illegal economic migrants by insisting that all applications for asylum must be considered and insist that they should not be returned to their countries of origin or embarkation. These authorities provide the migrants with the incentive to embark in dangerous vessels.
"If all of those caught or rescued were returned, the flow of migrants would dry up immediately."
8th May 2012: At the European Parliament in Brussels, Andrew Brons made his second speech of the morning during a debate in the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee (LIBE) on The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA).
"I am, of course, opposed to the EU signing treaties on behalf of member states. However, the UK signed the Agreement individually in January, so my opposition is rather an academic point.
"I am told that the Agreement in its original form would affect adversely the production of generic medicines. If this provision were to remain in its final form, the populations of poorer countries might not be able to afford medicines at all.
"The removal of protection from service providers for the actions of their service providers could lead those service providers to withdraw their facilities from subscribers for minor infringements.
"The criminalisation of minor and possibly accidental copyright infringements and the use of invasive searches and prosecutions are completely disproportionate.
"Furthermore, it will facilitate the bullying of small organisations: businesses, parties and pressure groups by the Political Class, by selective, invasive criminal investigations and prosecutions for minor infringements of copyright that are sometimes difficult to avoid."
8th May 2012: This morning at the European Parliament in Brussels, Andrew Brons made a speech during a debate in the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee (LIBE) on The Transportation and Detention of Prisoners by the CIA (and their alleged rendition for torture and questioning).
The British National Party MEP for Yorkshire and the Humber said:
"For a number of reasons, torture and even ill-treatment can never be justified.
"1. Torture and ill-treatment must be against a moral absolute. If there are any moral absolutes, that must be one of them.
"2. Such practices prevent countries that would like to see themselves as civilised from occupying the moral high ground. We cannot connive with activities that we deprecate in others.
"3. Torture and ill-treatment cannot even be justified on pragmatic grounds. Information gained from such practices is notoriously unreliable.
"The problem is not, of course, the absence of European law. That is too often seen as a universal remedy for every ill.
"The problem is not even an absence of substantive national law. In the case of the United Kingdom, the defence of Act of State cannot be used to defend the state against torture, ill-treatment or rendition for such purposes. The problem is the incomplete implementation of national law.
"There must be inquiries into the failure of the national law to protect individuals. However, inquiries in the United Kingdom into wrongdoing by the state are not what we do best. The inquiries into the war in Iraq and the death of Dr. David Kelly were not conducted efficiently, effectively or conscientiously.
"It is the duty of national politicians to hold the government to account and to ensure that inquiries are not used to whitewash their activities rather than attempting to discover the truth.
"Perhaps the answer will lie with those individuals who are seeking civil remedies against named ministers for alleged implication in the rendition of suspects to countries in which they would be tortured."
25th April 2012: Making his second contribution of the morning in his LIBE commeittee, Andrew Brons spoke during a debate on the Establishment of a European Border Surveillance System - Eurosur.
(This would co-ordinate the activities of various member states bodies with each other - such as border guards, the police, coast guards, customs and the navies of member states - with Frontex - the EU border control body - and with the equivalent bodies in other member states. Whilst this would appear to be a laudable attempt, why is it being attempted only now?).
"We have heard of the horrifying figures of thousands of illegal migrants who have lost their lives by drowning (as a result of attempts to reach Europe in small and unsafe boats). We have also been told about this new intelligence-led approach involving the monitoring of the passage of illegal migrants and of drugs.
"However, how will Eurosur and Frontex respond to such movements? If, when they arrive, they are given asylum status, then the next boat to set off will have been given the incentive to do so. Only the safe and immediate return of these illegal migrants will deter others.
"If this loss of life is to be prevented, the ports of embarkation must be identified and vessels must be prevented from setting off, with or without the co-operation of the countries in which the ports are situated. Those who arrive in Europe must be denied the right to stay.
"If we are referring to consignments of human beings and drugs, are steps being taken by the countries from which the drugs and the human beings are being sent? Or am I being naive? Mr. Busitill has identified the root of the problem being the migration of Sub-Saharan Africans entering the countries of North Africa from the South.
"We have heard this morning about the principle of non-refoulement* having to be respected. However, I thought that Mr. Cameron's bombs and Mr. Sarkhozy's bombs, plus the Arab Spring, were supposed to have bombed peace and democracy into the populations of the countries of North Africa. Or am I being naive yet again? Were their bombs intended to secure oil and not peace and democracy?"
* The principle of non-refoulement means that a person, even an illegal migrant, who comes from a dangerous country, cannot be returned to that country, even if the person has not been singled out for ill-treatment and would be no more likely to be ill-treated than the general population of that country that has remained there.