11th February 2014: Yesterday at the European Parliament in Brussels, Andrew Brons made the following contribution to a debate in the Constitutional Affairs Committee (AFCO) on relations between the Europe Parliament and national parliaments.
"The Report is, in essence, asking the question; "What are national parliaments for?" The question is not as foolish as it might seem, in view of the enormous shift in legislative competence from member states to the EU.
"It is true that when the EU enacts directives, national parliaments are allowed to put them into their own words. However, their exclusive competence has been shrinking continually. We now know that their main task is to control their member of the Council- their government and presumably to push it further in an integrationist direction.
"I had always thought that their function was to be responsible to their electorates and to take their mandates from those electorates- to be the embodiments of national democracy. However, it seems that their main task is to control the Council and prevent its members from engaging in heretical ways.
"Mr Duff said that states in a federation do not usually have a role to play in federal matters. He is an open and honest federalist. Some others in the EU are less honest about their federalism.
"There was an attempt to include the word 'federal' (or its equivalent in all the languages), in The Maastricht Treaty - now the Treaty on the European Union -including amendments. The word was deleted on the insistence of John Major although the EC and later EU has continued in a federal direction.
"National parliaments must, in my view, revert to their original task to represent the wishes of the people, rather than playing bit parts or cameo roles in a supranational production.
"We must not presume that national parliaments will receive a mandate from their electorates for "a journey toward (ever) greater EU integration" - the words in the first sentence of the Explanatory Memorandum.
"National moods are changing although they stand to be misled by the people who will claim to represent them."
23rd January 2014: Yesterday at the European Parliament in Brussels, Andrew Brons made the following contribution to a joint meeting of the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee (LIBE) and the Constitutional Affairs Committee (AFCO) on the European Union’s accession to the European Convention of Human Rights, following a presentation by a representative of the European Parliament’s Legal Service.
"I would like to check on whether I have understood this correctly. It seems that the European Court of Human Rights (the Council of Europe’s court - also known as the Strasbourg Court) will be able to:
1) rule on whether EU legislative acts are valid for being consistent with the European Convention on Human Rights without the legislation necessary having been considered by the European Court of Justice (the EU’s own court, also known as the Luxembourg Court). However, it cannot annul those legislative acts.
2) rule on whether judgments of the ECJ (Luxembourg Court) are valid for being consistent with the Convention. However, it cannot overturn ECJ judgments.
3) rule on whether administrative decisions taken by institutions of the EU are consistent with the Convention. I presume that it cannot annul them.
4) However, I presume that the Strasbourg Court would expect such legislation to be annulled, such judgments to be overturned and such decisions to be changed.
5) The Strasbourg Court cannot rule on the existence of the EU competences but it can rule on the exercise of those competences and whether that exercise is consistent with the Convention.
6) Will it be able to rule on the validity of the content of the treaties, although it will obviously not be able to annul them?
7) In short it seems that the Strasbourg Court will have the power of censure rather than the power to make binding judgements.
Mr Dodd (the Liberal Democrat MEP) said that the EU could sign up to only two of the protocols attached to the Convention but the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights would like the EU to sign up to all of them. Why can the EU not do so? (I was not suggesting that it ought to!)
Mr Dodd said that signing up to a protocol required unanimity and that the British Government had vetoed the signing of all protocols apart from Protocol 1 and protocol 6.
The representative of the EU’s Legal Service said that the Strasbourg Court would be able to rule on the validity of the content of the treaties. However, he thought that this would be a theoretical right only because it would be unlikely that an EU treaty would be inconsistent with the Convention."
21st January 2014: Today at the European Parliament in Brussels, Andrew Brons made the following contribution to a debate in the Constitutional Affairs Committee (AFCO) on the relationship between the European Parliament and national parliaments.
"Mr Chairman, I found your words quite reassuring, at first, especially when you quoted the kind words of the Lisbon Treaty on the important role of national parliaments, but not for long!
"It is a clear fact that the number of competences enjoyed by the EU either exclusively or as a shared competence is increasing irreversibly.
"The range of competences that are enjoyed exclusively by the member states- that is by the parliaments of member states is continually diminishing.
"I am not sure whether legislation can be measured or quantified easily and whether quantities of legislation passed by national parliaments and by the European Parliament can be compared accurately. "However the proportion passed by the European Union is increasing and the proportion passed by national parliaments is diminishing.
"It appears that the EU’s hunger for increased competences cannot ever be satisfied. Are there any identifiable competences that could never be transferred to the EU. If so, what are they?
"If there are not, then national parliaments will increasingly become elected advisory bodies. COSAC is a useful body- one of the few EU institutions of which I approve - but it facilitates advice and concern rather than the exercise of power.
"The few ostensible increases in the national parliament role are consultative rather than grants of power- a national parliament claiming the principle of subsidiarity or proportionality for example.
"The Lisbon Treaty did for the first time enshrine in treaty form the right to withdraw from the EU but that was simply the articulation of an assumed right. Its codification raises the possibility in the distant future of that right being removed from subsequent treaties.
"The British Conservative Party is pledged to negotiate the return of power to national parliaments but you all know that Such a return of power is impossible without treaty change by unanimous agreement – not very likely.
"I am now going to refer to something that is not strictly relevant to the question. However, Mr Duff has raised the issue of the probable results of the European elections in May, so I feel that I can also comment on it. In the UK, there will probably be a big increase in the representation of UKLIP. If you thought that was a plug for UKIP, you would be quite wrong.
"You might be interested to know that UKIP is immune to criticism in the British media – even in the Pro-EU media. Attempts to publicise UKIP’s lamentable attendance record in both the plenary and in committee always fail.
"You will remember Mr Verhofstadt’s reference to Mr Farage’s committee attendance (he had not attended his only committee once in 2011 and 2012). Mr Verhofstadt finished by predicting that the BBC and the independent broadcasting authorities would give widespread coverage to the revelation. He was wrong; not a word was heard about it."
21st January 2014: Yesterday afternoon at the European Parliament in Brussels, Andrew Brons made the following contribution to a debate in the Constitutional Affairs Committee (AFCO) following a hearing on Relations between the European Parliament and the European Commission: Parliamentarism or Presidentialism.
"We have heard that the President of the Commission should be appointed on the basis of the result of the European Parliamentary elections.
"The idea is that European Political Parties will nominate alternative candidates and the electors will vote for a list - perhaps with a European Political Party label - on the basis of that European Political Party’s choice of candidate for the Commission Presidency.
"However, most members of the public have not heard of European Political Parties. Many of them have not heard of the Commission or its Presidency, let alone the particular commissioner who comes from their own country. Still less do they know of the one candidate who has been chosen or the ones who might be chosen.
"If the choice of President is based on, or influenced by, the results of the European elections, it will be based on an electoral decision that the electorate does not know it has taken.
"First there is no EU demos. That has already been said this afternoon.
"There is an identity that Europeans in and out of the EU and even beyond (the continent of) Europe have but they have been told to feel guilty about it and pretend they don’t have it! It is certainly not an EU demos.
"However, even if there were a European demos, most people would not know that their choice of list had anything to do with anything beyond the national party with which it was associated.
"Even if I were a Europhile and you might know that I am not, I would be concerned about the lack of preparation for, and publicity about, this election."
21st January 2014: This morning at the European Parliament in Brussels, Andrew Brons made the following contribution to a debate in the Constitutional Affairs Committee (AFCO) on changes in the Rules of Procedure.
"I think that rather than placing a numerical limit on the number of written questions that are asked of the Commission, publicity should be used to deter those asking an excessive number of questions.
"I would like to know the identity of the member who has asked 890 questions in 2013? Perhaps he is so devoid of friends that he feels a need to communicate with the Commission."
21st January 2014: Yesterday afternoon at the European Parliament in Brussels, Andrew Brons made the following contribution to a debate following a hearing in the Constitutional Affairs Committee (AFCO) on whether the crisis endangered The European Union Democratic achievements.
"Professor Steven Blockmans* reminded us, if we needed reminding, that member states needed to submit their budgets to the Commission for scrutiny, when national budgets are clearly a member state competence.
"Member state governments are responsible to their electorates for their national budgets above any other responsibility.
"Possibly the question that should have been asked is not whether the crisis has endangered European Union democratic achievements but whether the EU response to the crisis has undermined democracy in member states."
* Senior Research fellow and Head of the EU Foreign Policy Unit at the Centre for European Policy Studies-CEPS 15
18th December 2013: On Tuesday at the European Parliament in Brussels, Andrew Brons made the following contribution to a debate in the Constitutional Affairs Committee (AFCO) on the privileges and immunities of the European Union.
"There is an ambiguity in Article 9 of Protocol 7 on the privileges and immunities of the European Union.
"It says that immunity cannot be claimed when a member is found in the act of committing an offence and shall not prevent the European Parliament from exercising the right to waive the immunity of one of its members.
"Does the second half of the sentence relate only to the first half - to people caught in the act of committing offences or does it have a wider application? Does it suggest that the EP has an unqualified right to waive immunity?
"The concept of somebody being caught in the act of committing an offence might be clear when relating to clear cut offences like murder or theft. However, in the case of Orwellian thought-crimes offences, the authorship of the words might not be in dispute but their criminality might be hotly disputed.
"Article 8 refers to MEPs not being subject to legal proceeding in respect of opinions expressed in the performing of their duties.
"Does this mean that words spoken in the plenary session and perhaps in committees enjoy absolute privilege? If they are expressed outside the Parliament and the subject is a present competence of the Union or within a competence that is being sought by the EU, surely the MEP is speaking in the performance of his or her duties."
18th December 2013: Yesterday at the European Parliament in Brussels, Andrew Brons made the following contribution to a debate held in the Constitutional Affairs Committee (AFCO) on the Rangel Report about proposed changes to the relationship between the European Parliament and the Commission.
"I wish to refer to only one area of this Report - that contained in paragraph A and proposal 3 - to the proposed indirect election of the President of the Commission by means of the European Parliamentary elections. (This is the idea that each European Political Party should choose its own candidate for President of the Commission and that voters would be invited to vote for a European Political Party on the basis of the Parties' preferred candidates).
"We have heard that the electorate's choices should be reflected in the choice of the President of the Commission.
"If all or most electors voted for the new European Political Parties, as distinct from national political parties and if they did so on the criterion of the designation by these parties of particular candidates for the Commission President, then the electorate would have exercised a choice that could indeed be reflected in the choice of Commission President.
"However, if electors continue to vote for national political parties or if they vote for European Political Parties simply because their preferred national party is part of their chosen European Party, the electorate would not have exercised a choice that could be reflected.
"Electors cannot be compelled to vote on particular criteria, any more than they can be compelled to vote in a particular way - for a particular party or candidate.
"We cannot assume that voters voting for a particular European party are doing so in order to support the candidature of a particular person to be Commission President.
"Most electors in the UK have never heard of European Political Parties and many have not heard of the Commission or its President. There are even some who have not heard of MEPs.
"It would take years of re-education (and I use that term with all of its connotations) to explain these to them and to persuade them to vote on the basis of competing candidates for the Presidency of the Commission."
17th December 2013: Yesterday at the European Parliament in Brussels, Andrew Brons made the following contribution to a debate in the Constitutional Affairs Committee (AFCO) on amendments to the rules of procedure for asking parliamentary questions.
The background to this is:
1) that 12,900 questions had been asked this year.
2) that 91% of members had asked at least one question.
3) that one member had asked 889 questions.
4) many questions were repetitive and asked the same question successively about the EU's relations with a multitude of non-member countries.
5) other questions required information that could have been answered by use of the internet.
6) that the cost of answering each question was enormous but not stated in the debate.
"Mr Duff had suggested that a question ought to be requesting information - "a seeking after the truth".
"Questions do not have to be a request for objective information to be worth asking-a seeking after the truth as Mr Duff put it.
"A question might legitimately ask for interpretation of a word or a phrase used in (say) a Commission document.
"It is perfectly legitimate to challenge the assumption on which policies are based or seeking the meaning of words used.
"Perhaps members should be asked to attach to their questions, their justifications for asking. The time wasters might find it difficult to do that."
27th November 2013: Yesterday at the European Parliament in Brussels, in his second contribution to a hearing in the Constitutional Affairs Committee (AFCO) on voter participation in the European elections, Andrew Brons said:
"We have just heard* that we need a new treaty that should be put to a Europe-wide referendum. Would we have just one referendum or would we have a succession of them until the people give the right answer? I think that it's called conditional direct democracy.
"We have now heard** that we must encourage participation in the European elections only selectively. Whilst we should encourage those with a positive view of the EU, we should not encourage those with a sceptical view or with 'far right' views***. Well, the easiest way to achieve that would be to restrict the right to vote to those approved by the EU. I am sure that somebody will come up with that suggestion in the end.
"On a separate issue, I am interested in why the Christian churches snubbed your invitation. That presumes that they were invited.****"
* from Gerald Häfner a German Green MEP
** from the Chief Rabbi of Belgium, Albert Guigui
*** The term 'far right' is hate speech for nationalists and patriots-
**** There were several representatives of 'Civil Society'. There was a representative of Islam; there was a representative of the Hindus; there was a representative of Judaism; there were representatives of secularism - the National Secular Society; and some philosophical organisations. There was nobody who was described or who described himself or herself as a representative of any Christian church. The President of AFCO said that people could be invited but could not be compelled to attend. He did not say expressly that they had been invited.