23rd January 2014: Yesterday 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 readmission agreement with Turkey (to accept its own nationals and citizens, and citizens of third countries).
"I wonder why countries have to consent to re-admit their own nationals? Presumably their nationals and their citizens (not quite the same thing) have an individual right to return.
"However, do countries have a right to collude with an illegal migrant who is being returned against his will, to refuse to accept this migrant in order to facilitate his remaining where he was living illegally.
"However, I am pleased to hear that in this agreement, Turkey will agree to accept back third country nationals and citizens who have entered through Turkey. Whether this will happen is another matter.
"The Rapporteur is right to be sceptical about the visa liberalisation that Turkey will gain under the Agreement. How many visa free travellers from Turkey will become illegal migrants?"
22nd January 2014: Yesterday 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 programme of the Greek Presidency.
"I had hoped to ask a question of the Greek Minister of Justice and Human Rights, no less, but questions in the first round were restricted to co-ordinators* . In LIBE all members are equal but some members are more equal than others.
"I was going to ask him:
'If during your Presidency it came to your attention that a fellow member state had arrested several opposition MPs following a thoroughly despicable murder of a political activist but, of whose murder they had not been accused and with whose murder they have not been charged, what would be his response?
How would he respond if the one despicable murder had been followed by two more equally despicable murders?
If MPs and other politicians commit offences they must always be prosecuted. They are even more culpable than others. However, would he agree that arrests of politicians in general and MPs is particular must always be viewed sceptically and with a questioning approach. Their position on the political spectrum should be completely immaterial. However it does not seem to be immaterial to many people here.
The debate has already been tainted this afternoon by what I can only call hate speech terms like: extreme right wing, extremist and racist. They are subliminal messages saying stop listening; suspend independent judgement.'
"As Pastor Niemaller said: “When they came for the Communists, I said nothing because I was not a Communist. When they came for the Socialists, I said nothing because I was not a Socialist. When they came for me, there was nobody left to object."
* The Greek Minister for Justice and Human Rights left the meeting for another appointment before I could ask him my question.
19th December 2013: On Tuesday 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) following a presentation by two representatives of the Lithuanian Presidency.
"Mr Bernatonis mentioned specific proposals on what he called "hate crime". The approach so far has been to create a list of recognised categories of victims of such crime - people defined by: ethnicity, by sex or gender, by disability, or by sexual orientation etc.
"Has the Council or anybody else considered the possibility of creating a single concept of hate crime against people of all categories, however defined, including (say) people defined by political opinion, affiliations or ideology or would that lead to the wrong people being prosecuted, and that would never do?"
18th December 2013: Yesterday 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 exemption for people from Moldova (and other countries) from the requirement to obtain a visa.
"The question of abuse of visa exemption is treated as though it would be an unusual and unexpected occurrence. However if it applies to countries with a GDP per capita that is a fraction of that in the Western part of the EU, it would be surprising if this did not occur.
"Has there ever been a study of the extent of the problem? Indeed in the absence of visas would it even be possible to assess the extent of that occurrence?"
*UK 2007 GDP per capita $35,130 - Moldova 2007 GDP per capita $2,551. (1/14th of ours)!
17th December 2013: Yesterday 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) following a presentation by Commissioner Viviane Reding on Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship.
"The Commissioner mentioned procedural changes to the European Arrest Warrant such as legal aid. However, the one change that appears not to have been considered is an ability of the court in the country from which extradition is sought to consider evidence critically and to reject an EAW on the grounds of insufficient evidence.
"Before the European Arrest Warrant in my own country, a magistrates court had the right to reject it if the evidence failed to reach the same standard of proof as in a criminal trial. Under the EAW, lack of evidence is not a ground for refusal.
"You say that freedom of movement was the most valued right. When mobility is between states of comparable wealth the exercise of that right will be exceptional and on a small scale. However, when that right is exercised between countries, some of which have a Gross Domestic Product per capita that is perhaps a multiple of three or more of another, it is a recipe for the receiving countries being disrupted by an overload of social services and the disruption of the economies and the workforces of the supplying countries by emigration.
"I find it difficult to believe that citizens of member states believe that freedom of movement is more important than the fundamental political rights such as freedom of expression and freedom of association.
"I suspect that the interviewees were not ordinary citizens but members of the Political Class. Its members want mobility of labour but not the right of freedom of expression that might be used to criticise it."
28th November 2013: Yesterday at the European Parliament in Brussels, Andrew Brons attended a Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee (LIBE) Hearing on European Law Enforcement Training.
Here is his report:
We heard a presentation from Reinhard Priebe Director for Internal Security, the European Commission and several other speakers. One of the questions that I asked him was about which categories of cross border crime were the focus of the training; who was being trained; whether the training was just in detection techniques or also in substantive law.
It became clear that cross border crime was only part of the purpose and that the programme would involve police exchanges. I was going to follow up the question with one asking whether there was a longer term aim to provide mobility of employment for police officers. However, Mr. Priebe had to leave to attend another meeting before I had a chance to ask it.
I later asked a representative of Frontex* and a representative of the Fundamental Rights Agency the following question:
"Fundamental Rights is a broad spectrum from the most important such as a prohibition on physical force and violence down to what I would consider to be less important such as politeness and avoiding profiling, even where it is perfectly understandable. Is it ever perceived that there is a conflict between the need to observe fundamental rights and for Frontex to do its work effectively."
* Frontex is the EU's border control agency.
The FRA representative left the Frontex representative to answer the question, who fell over himself, verbally, assuring me that fundamental rights were deeply ingrained in everything that they did.
So I suppose the answer was "Yes"!
When the hearing started, there were about four MEPs* in the audience plus a Vice President in the Chair on the platform. By the end of the hearing I was the only one in the audience! There were about a dozen assistants too but no more MEPs.
After the meeting, I had a word with the Vice President and gave her a scribbled note. It was to the effect that this was the second LIBE hearing in the last two months in which I had been the only MEP present at the end of the meeting I had on the first occasion suggested to the President of the Committee that before further hearings were organised, there should be some question to members asking how many would make some sort of commitment to attend. I made the same suggestion to the Vice President.
No, I am not going soft on the EU. These events cost a lot of taxpayers' money in expenses and sometimes in speakers' fees. They should not be held if there is insufficient interest in them.
* There are sixty full members of LIBE and fifty-nine reserve members (including me).
27th November 2013: This 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 European Arrest Warrant.
"Ideally I would like to see an end to the European Arrest Warrant but I shall not rehearse that now. However, in the meanwhile, we must be pragmatic and hope to see it reformed.
"Before the European Arrest Warrant was introduced, Magistrates Courts in England and Wales had to be convinced beyond all reasonable doubt of the guilt of the person whose extradition was sought.
"Now the Magistrates Court can refuse extradition only on procedural grounds, the validity of the instrument or (latterly) on human rights grounds and not on the grounds of lack of evidence. I would hope that we would see some sort of evidential hurdle in the executing country*, even if not as high as the previous one. I have not heard anything about that this morning.
"Mrs Ludford** referred to the European Arrest Warrant being used to secure witnesses rather than just the accused person. This must mean that somebody in the issuing country* has made a false statement. What are the consequences for such people?
"The Rapporteur referred to pre-trial detention being a matter of first resort when it ought to be a matter of last resort. Should the executing country be able to refuse pre-trial detention where it would disrupt a person's life unreasonably or is the question always decided by the issuing country? There must be a distinction between it being used to remove a person from his or her own country and somebody being returned to his or her own country.
"We heard earlier from Mr Melo that agreement (in the trialogue between the Commission, the Council and the Parliament) had been reached on the European Investigation Order. I would not normally be in favour of such an Order. However, for as long as the European Arrest Warrant exists and extends to the UK, I would prefer an EAW to be preceded by an EIO rather than not. It might help to weed out the weakest cases.
"I was interested to read in the Explanatory Memorandum that 54,689 EAWs had been issued but only 11,630 had been executed. I would be interested to see a breakdown of these figures***."
* The executing country is the country from which extradition is being sought, as distinct from the issuing country, which is seeking extradition of the person.
** In fact she is Baroness Ludford. "Is this a first step towards the enormities of the French Revolution," I hear you asking.
*** They are to be found in the document COM(2011)175.
19th November 2013: Yesterday evening at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, Andrew Brons made the following contribution to a hearing in the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee (LIBE) on Electronic Mass Surveillance. The speaker was Dr Adam Bodnar of the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights (Poland)*.
"In evidence to the appropriate committee in the Westminster Parliament, the heads of the three security bodies in the United Kingdom**, suggested that the revelations of Edward Snowden and others had alerted potential terrorists to surveillance methods, which might help them to avoid surveillance.
"I have attended two of the hearings conducted by LIBE into mass surveillance and my experience was that the former members of the (U.S.) National Security Agency and MI5 did not reveal surveillance methods but told us of the range of people subjected to it: investigative journalists; and even members of the government.
"Has that been your experience too?
"It appears that the security services (in the United Kingdom) are trying to discredit 'whistle blowers' by describing them as people who were, wittingly or unwittingly, helping terrorists. Have you or any of your colleagues, been on the receiving end of similar innuendos."
* Dr. Bodnar's organisation has been asking 'freedom of information' questions to various government institutions in Poland about the involvement of Poland with the mass surveillance programmes of the United States.
16th November 2013: On Thursday at the European Parliament in Brussels, Andrew Brons made the following contribution during a debate in the CIvil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee (LIBE) on a proposed regulation on rules for the surveillance of external sea borders.
"The regulation will change non-binding guidelines for search and rescue of would-be migrants into a legally binding instrument. I would applaud member states taking on such obligations independently. It is self-evidently right that people in danger should be rescued. Member states should not need to be told to do so.
"However, the regulation extends the obligation to rules for disembarkation of rescued persons – where* they should be disembarked. That should be a matter for member states notwithstanding the decision of the European Court of Human Rights**.
"The Explanatory Statement says that the need to protect our borders should not be detrimental to the fundamental rights of migrants. However, we might ask whether the principle of non-refoulement*** and the ECHR judgment are detrimental to the ability to protect external borders.
"This principle means that would-be migrants need only show or persuade that they come from dangerous countries, whether they have documents or do not, to be granted asylum.
"The operation of the principle of non-refoulement provides the incentive that persuades would-be migrants to risk their own lives and those of their families by embarking on perilous crossings. That principle is directly responsible for the tragic deaths in the Mediterranean.”
* Rules against them being taken back to where they sailed from and insisting that they should be brought to Europe!
** Hirsi Jamaa and Others v. Italy
*** The principle of non-refoulement is that migrants, even if they have entered illegally, cannot be sent back to dangerous countries.
16th November 2013: On Thursday at the European Parliament in Brussels, Andrew Brons made the following contribution during a debate in the CIvil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee (LIBE) on a proposed regulation on Europol – the EU police force responsible for combating cross border crime.
"We have been told that Europol will gain a new responsibility for cybercrime. A number of forms of this have been specified in the Explanatory Statement:
- payment card fraud;
- child sexual abuse; and
"We would all agree that these must be combated and nobody would object to effective measures against them, though whether or not by Europol is a matter of opinion.
'However, I would be concerned if the definition of cybercrime were to be extended to restrictions on political communication, which might involve Europol making political judgments about the extent of legitimate restrictions and/or extending, by stealth, the laws of the most restrictive countries* to all others, in their website communications."
* Virtually all member states restrict freedom of speech on matters to do with race or immigration. We, rightly, regard restrictions in Britain as being repressive and going well beyond the necessity of preventing clear incitements to violence. However, many other countries have laws that are far more repressive than ours. France is perhaps the worst, where the chance use of the wrong word like ‘detail’ or ‘debate’ might result in prosecution. Comparisons between the changes brought about by immigration with those effected by occupation have attracted legal proceedings. All websites are accessible in virtually all countries. Could more repressive countries seek prosecution for websites in less repressive countries? I suspect that Europol will be encouraged to consider that possibility.