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.
26th November 2013: This afternoon at the European Parliament in Brussels, Andrew Brons made the following contribution to a debate in the Constitutional Affairs Committee (AFCO) on voter participation in EU elections.
"The fact that there has been a negative correlation between the power of the EU and the European Parliament on the one hand and voter turnout on the other, has been described as a paradox. It is only a paradox only if your first premise is that the people want or appreciate a European Parliament and an EU with power - and they are not the same. In fact only a minority know about the increased power of the Parliament. However, nearly all know about the increased power of the EU and they don't like it.
"We have been told that voters will respond to alternative, new and unfamiliar European political parties (in the 2014 European elections). They are much more likely to respond to those whose names they know - that have retained their familiar names. They will be parties that have decided not to affiliate to a European political Party or have been refused registration because their ideologies and policies are disapproved by the EU.
"We have been told that low turnout is a sign of apathy; it might be in some cases. However, it might also be a sign of antipathy - antipathy to the EU Project.
"It might be a rejection of the fact that the European Union has become progressively less European, with its population as the result of immigration and with its economies as the result of Globalisation.
"Abstention has an honourable history, as what I would call a plus one choice - a choice additional to the list of parties and candidates. If it is a legitimate choice and it is in all countries that retain the right to vote and have not replaced it with a duty to vote, it is not the business pof the European Union to spend public money to dissuade people from exercising that choice freely.
"We have heard (from one of the invited guests) that Europe must be a Europe of Democracy and in the same breath a call for political discrimination in the funding of European political parties. However, he mustn't worry, political discrimination is in the woodwork here.
"The absurd contradiction cannot be seen or understood."
26th November 2013: Today at the European Parliament in Brussels, Andrew Brons made the following two contributions to a debate in the Constitutional Affairs Committee (AFCO) on European Political Parties.
Introduction: This has been discussed several time previously. AFCO is now keen to reach agreement with the Council and the Commission, in order that it should be enacted in advance of the 2014 European elections. One of the points of contention is the procedure for de-registration. The three countries that are currently refusing to agree to the Parliament's proposals are the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic (which still lacks a government).
Andrew made two interventions on the same subject.
"The Explanatory Memorandum mentions the possibility of party registering as a European Political Party but not applying for funding. In what circumstances might this arise. Is there a lower requirement for registration than for funding. What would be the disadvantage of a party not being registered, when compared with a party that was registered but not funded?*
"You, Mr. President, said that de-registration was an important political issue and that the Parliament should be fully involved. The word political was well chosen.
"For all the talk of the need for impartiality, it must be remembered that the members making the one application (for the de-registration of two parties) that has been made, forgot to mention the grounds for de-registration. That rather gave their game away. It would be analogous to a call for somebody to be prosecuted, convicted and imprisoned without naming the crime.
"There is talk in the document of freedom of association. This is freedom of association only for those who are approved of."
Second contribution following other speakers
"I asked earlier whether there were different criteria for registration and for funding.
The text of the document mentions the requirement for a party to have one MEP but only in the context of funding (as distinct from registration). I understood that it applied to both.
"What is the disadvantage of not being registered, compared with being registered but unfunded?*
"Mr. President, you suggested that the final decision should be by a Parliamentary vote rather than by a single individual and it has been suggested that such votes could be objective. However, the criteria - so-called European values - are highly subjective. In my view, the governments of many member states are undemocratic but you might disagree. This would involve a majority of politicians empowered to take decisions about the fate of a minority of politicians.
"In my view all parties should fund themselves by becoming popular. If all parties were registered and received funding, it would be an unwise use of public funds. If some are funded and other not funded, it becomes a corrupt use of public funds."
* Andrew asked this question twice because it was not answered the first time and it has still not been answered.
26th November 2013: This morning at the European Parliament in Brussels, Andrew Brons made the following speech during a debate in the Constitutional Affairs Committee (AFCO) on the Implementation of the Lisbon Treaty.
"The Rapporteur considered the merits of indirect election of the President of the Commission as well as direct election of the President of the European Commission.
"The indirect election of the President is of course possible without treaty change, simply by European Political Parties adopting rival candidates for the Presidency. Is there any opinion poll evidence to suggest that electorates will accept the invitation to cast their votes for European Political Parties on that basis. They will probably continue to vote on national criteria for national political parties.
"The direct election of the President of the Commission would of course require treaty change. Is there any evidence that significant proportions of the electorates know enough about role of the President or of the Commission itself or even the existence of those bodies, to exercise a rational vote. I suspect that the turn-out for such an election would be miniscule.
"The Lisbon Treaty, of course, expanded the legislative role of the European Parliament, which some would applaud. My view is well-known and does not need to be rehearsed. However, that expansion is worthwhile only if members know what they are voting on.
"When our Vice President, Mr Papastamkos, collapsed during the plenary session in March, President Schulz remarked with unusual frankness that most MEPs did not know what they voting on (in the long legislative session that had extended over two hours). This is because amendments and voting lists change at the last moment.
"This happens not only in the plenary sessions. It happened in AFCO during the morning session in the October plenary (on the 24th October). I waited for the voting list to appear during the previous evening but it had not arrived by 8.30 pm so I left. I discovered the next morning that it had not arrived until 11.45 pm. I had marked how I would vote on the reports but those votes had to be transcribed quickly onto the voting list with the help of one of my assistants. The vote started before the transcription was complete. I noticed one MEP who had tabled a number of amendments was not voting for his own amendments, clearly because he was unable to recognise them.
"Voting should be informed and rational. Most votes are neither.
"I notice the leaders of the large groups signalling to their members how they should vote, without any possibility that the MEPs understand what they are being asked to do.
"I try to be involved with my assistants on all legislative decisions but that is difficult if I want to listen to, and participate in, debates."
26th November 2013: Yesterday at the European Parliament in Brussels, Andrew Brons made the following speech during a debate in the Constitutional Affairs Committee (AFCO) on a proposal for a regulation on uniform rules and procedures for regulation of credit institutions mainly in the Eurozone.
"My comments are addressed mainly to those whose lives are so uneventful that they are watching our debate in their own homes this afternoon. This is just as well because there will be marginally more of them than there are members of this Committee (There were six MEPs present at the start of the debate).
"Some people, in the United Kingdom, might wonder at my taking part in any discussion or voting on something that will affect only Eurozone countries or other participating states, when the UK is not in the Zone and is unlikely to become a participating state.
"However, that does not mean that a future government of the UK might not have its sights on the UK joining the Eurozone or becoming a participating state.
"Furthermore, the rule for multi-tier governance and exclusion of non-participating member states do not apply to the Parliament. That means that I have a right to participate - possibly a duty to do so.
"My concern for advancing and defending the role of national parliaments does not begin and end with the role of the United Kingdom Parliament. I am concerned to defend and advance the role for the national parliaments of all member states. I am not a UKIP Little Englander. Whilst I am not an enthusiast for the European Union, I would prefer a Union with a greater role for national parliaments than one with a lesser role for national parliaments. I shall therefore vote for amendments that increase their role and against those that diminish their role.
"I am not an enthusiast for the Council but it does at least contain the representatives of member states.
"I am even less an enthusiast for the Parliament, when it exercises power over member states. However, I am in favour of it, as an elected body, exercising powers and oversight over appointed bodies like the Single Resolution Board, when they would otherwise be unexamined and
unregulated. I shall therefore vote for amendments that increase those powers or facilitate oversight.
"I shall abstain on what I consider to be drafting amendments.
"I shall of course vote against the resolution as a whole, because I value national independence of all member states and not just my own."
After the debate, Andrew told his website:
"A comment by Andrew Duff (Lib-Dem) not on my contribution was revealing.
"He said that the Single Resolution Mechanism might eventually need Treaty change because of the large transfer of state sovereignty to the EU."
24th October 2013: At the European Parliament in Strasbourg, Andrew Brons made the following point of order at the beginning of an extraordinary Constitutional Affairs Committee (AFCO) meeting held during the last morning of the plenary (full parliamentary) week, at which many votes (256 plus eight compromise amendments and plus about thirty amendments from the Employment and Economic Committees) would be taken on multi-tier governance.
"I would like to make a point of order. As you know this Parliament is not my favourite legislature. However, I believe that legislative decisions should always be informed and considered rationally. I spent some hours taking decisions on how I would vote on most of the 255 amendments (though not the compromise amendments which I did not have). However, I did not receive the voting list until this morning (It was apparently released only at 11.45 pm last night). We have had to start transcribing my voting decisions onto the voting list but will not be able to complete this process in time. This is not the way in which legislation should passed."
Andrew later told this website:
"Mr Duff, the British Liberal Democrat made a similar point and there were apologies from the Rapporteurs. However, the votes went ahead.
"There was obvious confusion with voting being guided by who was supporting or opposing a particular amendment. I noticed one MEP who had proposed several amendments fail to vote in support of his own amendments - presumably because he did not recognise them!
"I used to think that the EU was sinister but efficient. I now realise that it is sinister but chaotic."
17th October 2013: Contribution from Andrew Brons to a debate in AFCO, held on 14th October 2013, on a proposal to establish a single resolution mechanism for all credit institutions in the Euro-zone and in other countries that choose to participate.
"Looking at the proposal at first sight, you might be forgiven for believing that this was primarily a proposal with economic objectives and that the institutional architecture, as it has been called, is simply a collection of political means of achieving those objectives.
"However, if you look at the Explanatory Statement (in the original Rapporteur’s report) and listen to the very clear explanation from the present Rapporteur, you see that the reverse is the case.
"In the third paragraph of the Explanatory Statement, it says, “it is paramount to destroy the links between banks and sovereigns*”.
"We were told by the present Rapporteur** that banking union was essential to European (by which is meant EU) integration and an enhancement of the role of the European Parliament was in the forefront of her explanation. It is true that the present Rapporteur also mentioned scrutiny by the parliaments of member states but the reaction to that from members of this committee indicated that that part of her proposal was unlikely to survive.
"It seems that EU integration is the principal object and the crisis is simply the pretext, whilst any perceived economic advantages- such as the single market in financial services – are incidental.
"I shall not take any more of your time; you have heard all this before. However, it is possible that people out there watching the web-streamed version, might not have done so."
* by which it means governments of member states.
** A Rapporteur is an MEP who writes and presents a report to a committee or to the whole Parliament. On the occasion, one Rapporteur wrote the report and a different Rapporteur presented it to AFCO.
26th September 2013: On Tuesday morning at the European Parliament in Brussels, Andrew Brons made the following contribution to a debate in a joint meeting of the Constitutional Affairs Committee (AFCO), the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee (LIBE) and the Legal Affairs Committee (JURI) following presentations from the President of those committees on a Mid-Term Review of the Stockholm Programme.
"I found the words of Mr Berlinguer (President of JURI) about the failure of member states to transpose directives* in a timely manner, quite revealing. The English translation was, “We must crack down on misbehaviour by member states,” and, “We know who the offenders are”. I am sure that citizens of member states will find such language alarming, when it is brought to their attention. Member states are spoken of, as though they were naughty children and not sovereign bodies.
"I was interested to hear from Mr Casini (President of AFCO) that all discrimination should be prohibited (as distinct from a list of different categories of discrimination). I wonder if that would include discrimination on the ground of political affiliation or opinion. Such discrimination is endemic in the United Kingdom and supported by all members of the Political Class.
"Mr Casini referred to Citizens’ Initiatives** as a form of direct democracy***. Whilst a citizens’ initiative and a referendum have some superficial similarities, there are fundamental differences. Citizens’ initiatives involve only those who sign or refuse a request to sign and not the vast majority of people. Furthermore, the result is not a decision by the peoples of the member states as a whole. It is a plea for action by the Commission, which can be refused. Citizens’ Initiatives have more in common with petitions than they do with direct democracy.
"I am not sure that these petitioners should be supported financially, especially because there would be a distinction made between those that were approved (for financial support) and those that were disapproved. Furthermore, there is something improper by definition for petitioners to be in the pocket of the petitioned.
The Charter of Fundamental Rights was mentioned. We now know from the case of NS (an asylum seeker) v. the United Kingdom that Protocol 30, attached to the Lisbon Treaty for the United Kingdom and Poland, did not constitute an ‘opt-out’ (as claimed by Tony Blair). However, we do not know what it does constitute. I think that we need to explore that question urgently."
* Directives, unlike regulations, do not come into force by themselves but have to be brought into force by each member state.
** Citizens’ Initiatives are a facility for a proposal for a change in EU policy from a million signatories from several different countries. They are supposed to be spontaneous proposals demonstrating how wonderfully open the EU is.
*** Direct democracy is a system by which a question is decided by the electorate directly (as in a referendum), rather than by elected representatives.
17th September 2013: This morning at the European Parliament in Brussels, Andrew Brons made the following contribution to a debate, held in the Constitutional Affairs Committee (AFCO) on Proposed Changes to the Rules on the Waiver of Parliamentary Immunity.
"I should like to deal with the first of Mrs Jäätenmaki's list of concerns - 'that we should ensure that the defendant receives a hearing of any objection to the waiver of immunity'.
"The procedures as it stands is for the Legal Affairs Committee to consider the arguments for and against the waiver of immunity and the matter is then passed to the Parliament for confirmation of that decision, without any argument or evidence. This taking of a quasi-judicial decision without evidence or argument is against the principles of natural law.*
"It could be argued that a debate in the full session of the Parliament would be time consuming and that arguments and evidence should be left to the Committee. However, that renders the Parliamentary vote to be pointless and a rubber-stamping exercise. Members are asked to vote on a matter about which they probably know nothing.
"Either the Committee should have the formal power to take the final decision (and take the responsibility for it) or there should be a short presentation for and against the waiver before the vote is taken.
"We have heard that we must distinguish between activities that are in fulfilment of an MEP's duties and those that are beyond his or her Parliamentary duties. There will always be a grey area between those two categories allowing the decision to be made other than on merit."
* The background to this is that Mrs Morvai, an MEP from the Hungarian Jobbik list, is facing a trumped up charge of criminal defamation in Hungary.
The Legal Affairs Committee decided to waive her legal immunity. The European Parliament was then asked to confirm that decision. No debate was allowed, because there is never debate allowed on such matters.
Andrew raised a point of order saying that for Parliament to take a quasi-judicial decision of this kind was against the principles of natural justice. The immunity of Marine Le Pen was similarly waived more recently.
16th September 2013: Today at the European Parliament in Brussels, Andrew Brons made the following speech to a debate in the Constitutional Affairs Committee (AFCO) on proposals from Alain Lamassoure MEP suggesting changes in the relationship between the European Parliament and the institutions representing member states (the Council and the European Council).
"The holding of a debate, before each meeting of the European Council, provides us with a valuable opportunity to comment on the agenda beforehand. However, if the President of the European Council were to be present at such debates, questions would inevitably be asked with the expectation that they should be answered.
"As the document pointed out, the President of the European Council, unlike the President of the Commission, is not responsible (in the sense of accountable) to the Parliament. The presence of the President of the European Council before the European Council meeting would be a step towards making him (and indirectly the European Council) answerable if not accountable to the European Parliament.
"The same might be said of his (the President of the European Council's) presence at annual State of the Union debates, which are currently addressed only by the President of the Commission.
"This increase in the power and prestige of the Parliament would not come free of charge. It would be at the expense of the European Council - the body representing the governments of member states.
"For that reason I would argue against the proposal and it is probably for the same reason that others here (on AFCO) would commend it.
"The Rapporteur has assured us that his proposals would not require changes in the Treaties. No but there would be a de facto shift of power from member states to the European Parliament, which is, quite expressly, not a body representing member states but the populations collectively."
After the meeting, Andrew reported:
A Portuguese member of the Committee, Paulo Rangel, implied that I ought to favour the power of Parliament.
I replied that I would - the power of member states' Parliaments.
He also remarked that I ought to favour de facto changes because that is the way in which the British Constitution had changed.
I had not said that I deprecated changes because they were de facto changes. I said that I deprecated them because I did not approve of their likely effects."