29th April 2013: Last Thursday at the European Parliament in Brussels, Andrew Brons spoke during a debate in the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee (LIBE) following a presentation by Mr Rob Wainwright, the head of Europol and Mr. Gilles Kerckhove, the European Union’s Counter-Terrorism Co-ordinator.
"Mr. Wainwright said that a significant number of terrorists and would-be terrorists had been arrested going to and from Syria. Does Europol keep a watching brief on governments of, and state institutions in, member states that hint that they might step over the line between humanitarian help (which is praiseworthy) and financing and arming terrorists (which is not!).
"Mr. Wainwright also referred to action being taken against websites that support terrorism or incite violence and that action must be applauded. However, are you careful to distinguish between those sites and other political and religious sites that might say and write things that offend us but do not incite violence or support terrorism. That is a distinction that is made in the United States with its First Amendment and we would do well to emulate it.
"Both speakers referred to lone wolf terrorists unconnected with others, such as the appalling gunman who launched an attack on a religious school in France and the even more murderous Breivik. How can people without links be prevented as distinct from simply being detected and apprehended after the event?
"I, too, found the term home grown terrorist interesting. It is not used to describe Irish Republicans committing offences in Ireland or Basque ETA terrorists committing acts in the Basque country. It seems that the term home grown is a euphemism – home grown as distinct from home-descended. I shall leave you to comment on that!
Mr. Wainwright did not comment on my first question. With regard to the second he said, “We rely on national governments to define terrorism and violent extremism”. He did not comment on the First Amendment.
Both uttered platitudes about my third question, which is about all they could be expected to do!
In response to my fourth, they were both very apologetic for using such a term, with the implications that it clearly had. They obviously thought that I was some kind of political correctness zealot ready to denounce them with the ‘R’ word. In fact, I was praising them for being frank and urging them to be franker. They really should have done their homework on me!
26th April 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 IT Security.
"I am not a computer expert or even a computer enthusiast. Indeed, I have reached an age at which I find even turning on a computer as difficult as tying my own shoe laces. However, I found the explanation by the Rapporteur extremely interesting, especially his explanation that breakdowns in IT systems are as often the result of natural phenomena as they are the result of deliberate actions by hackers and others. In particular you mentioned the flooding of a cellar in Sweden that resulted in the railways being interrupted for three days.
"IT has played a wonderful role in improving communications. To what extent is it possible to have a non-IT back-up for all communications so that life does not come to a halt if there is a problem with an IT system.
"I could make an analogy with motor cars. Previously cars were simple and if the battery was flat, we could always push start it. Now with modern cars, we have to call a mechanic out at 2 o'clock in the morning.
"Modern technology should improve on previous systems and supplement them but should not become an exclusive substitute. We might occasionally have to rely on yesterday's technology."
Response from the Rapporteur
He said that until shortly before the railway communication system was interrupted, Swedish railways had got rid of thirty steam engines on the ground that they were not needed. However, two remained and were used during the interrupted period. The others could have been used to advantage.
26th April 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 measures to combat money laundering and the financing of terrorist activities.
"I have the greatest sympathy with the content of the explanatory memorandum. All laundering of money from illicit activities must be discovered and stopped.
"Money from illicit activities must not be allowed to create and consolidate assets in legitimate business.
"Money from neither legal nor illicit business must be allowed to finance terrorism. How do we stop it? Well, as the apocryphal man said when he was stopped and asked for directions, "I would not have started from here".
"The writer of the explanatory memorandum was refreshingly frank: "The breaking down of barriers facilitates not only legitimate business but also money laundering and financing of terrorist activity."
"The removal of borders under the Schengen Agreement and the adoption of the single currency have made money laundering and terrorist financing and activity much easier.
"Border controls do not have to be intrusive and it is not necessary to stop every vehicle but the ability to do so would be a deterrent to some and lead to the detection of others .
"Of course, we cannot blame the EU's single market and single currency for all or most money laundering.
"In the UK there is a coincident correlation between the 'sensitive' 'enriched' areas in which non-user drug dealers are based and the presence of large numbers of flourishing takeaways that have few customer and taxi drivers who take few fares. What do they have in common? They are both cash businesses."
26th April 2013: Yesterday at the European Parliament in Brussels, Andrew Brons made a Point of Order at the beginning of a meeting of his Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee (LIBE).
Andrew went into his LIBE Committee meeting yesterday morning at exactly 9.00am, which was the scheduled time to start.
He was the first person to sign in. He was followed within a few minutes by a Hungarian socialist.
At 9.10am the Vice President of the Committee announced that the Rapporteur for the first item on the agenda would be unable to attend and that the Rapporteurs for the second and third items (due to start at 9.20am) had not yet arrived. She proposed that we should wait until they arrived before we started the meeting.
Andrew raised a point of order saying that in the nearly four years since his election in 2009 he could not remember a single committee meeting starting on time.
He told his website:
"We are always running short of time and yet we never start on time. I asked for this to be placed on the record of the meeting.
"I turned up to a LIBE hearing* about two years ago and (unusually) I arrived 10 minutes late. the official greeted me with the words: "We have been waiting for you." These words surprised me until I sat down and found that the panel was present on the platform but I was the only person in the audience. The hearing could not start until I arrived!"
* (At height of the first debate there were just eight of us present).
24th April 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) held on the situation of unaccompanied (immigrant) minors in the European Union.
"We are told that a key principle is that the child's best interests must take precedence - over what we are not told, but complete sentences have never been a forte of the European Union.
"This principle is often interpreted in material terms and the child will undoubtedly be better fed, better educated and richer than if he or she had remained in the Third World. However, it is an ethnocentric assumption that living in Europe, where the child has no roots and no cultural support, is preferable to living in his or her own country.
"If it is, indeed, preferable for them to live in Europe, it must follow logically that we cannot tolerate any children continuing to live in the Third World. We in LIBE must set off en masse for Africa today, in the footsteps of Madonna, the singer (I use the word singer in the widest possible sense) and kidnap and bring to Europe every child in sight.
"Of course, the idea that children would have the resources and the knowledge and understanding to bring themselves to Europe is fanciful. If children are thought to have arrived unaccompanied, they will have been trafficked - by criminals for the purpose of cruel abuse, or by parents and other family to improve their lives.
"Of course, the most pernicious traffickers are those who invent the nonsensical principles of which we have heard this morning, that attract, like a magnet, potentially, the whole population of the Third World.
"These human traffickers are not really concerned about the welfare of these children - they are simply pawns in the game: the game of changing demographically the populations of Europe and ethnically cleansing Europe of its indigenous populations."
26th March 2013: Last week at the European Parliament in Brussels, Andrew Brons made the following contribution to a debate following a hearing of experts in the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee (LIBE) on Schengen II Border Management.
"Mr Jeandesboz mentioned a distinction that might be made between permissible and non-permissible profiling but he did not elaborate.
"In my view the inhibition about profiling flies in the face of common sense. If a particular population group, however defined, or people from a particular country of origin are disproportionately responsible for some offences, there should be no ban on profiling.
"If grey haired, over weight, retired teachers who have become MEPs are disproportionately involved in human trafficking (as distinct from boring our students to death); and if it is found that elderly, upper middle class ladies, from the English Home Counties, are the predominant element among drug dealers and terrorists (and I have always suspected them of being so): then those groups should be profiled and subjected to more intense questioning and search.
"When I asked, rather timidly, a representative of Europol in a LIBE Hearing on Human Trafficking, a couple of years ago, whether any population groups were disproportionately to be found among the perpetrators or victims of human trafficking, he replied, rather less timidly: “The answer to both questions is the Roma”.
Andrew Brons on the responses his speech received:
"This elicited immediately a response from the Vice President, who was presiding over the debate, that the group that was most disproportionately represented among the victims of human trafficking was the female gender. Well spotted Sophie in t’Veldt. I thought that you were going to say: over-weight and grey haired teachers. I do not think that I have ever been trafficked but I feel that I might have been during my three and a half years as an MEP.
"An East German GUE MEP (rather to the left of somebody who is very much to the left of almost anybody you can imagine) was not impressed by my mini-speech. She said that I was being terribly unkind to the Roma and therefore speaking against the values on which the Union was founded. I do not think that she made clear, which Union’s values were being disregarded.
"I stand condemned for repeating, accurately, the words of an invited expert to a LIBE hearing. I have no way of checking the accuracy of the answer that I received but I did repeat accurately the answer that I received.
"The response was interesting. If Roma girls and women do indeed feature prominently among the victims of human trafficking, should they not be protected. If they are being trafficked by Roma men, should the men not be prevented from trafficking women and girls.
"Is it against the values on which the Union was founded to be opposed to human trafficking and to wish to protect the victims - regardless of the population group (or race!) to which they belong.
"Would you like to play a game of ‘Find The Racist’ – whatever that word might mean!"
25th March 2013: Last week at the European Parliament in Brussels, Andrew Brons spoke during a debate held in the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee (LIBE) which formed part of a hearing, organised by the Committeee, of experts on Schengen II (the IT system used to manage the movement of people into and within the Schengen Area – the countries between which there are no manned borders).
He told the Committee's MEPs:
"Mr Lechner was informative on finger printing and the fact that dirt and sugary deposits reduce the quality of finger prints. When I was a child I was always puzzled about my parents’ insistence that I should keep washing my hands. Now I have the answer: they were after my finger prints!
"Mr Tudoache* said that SIS II** will be able to hold 100 million records compared with only 46 million records on SIS I.
"Why was the increase necessary: the increase in the number of member states?
"The records of whom or what will be kept on the system? What are the criteria for inclusion in these records? People seeking visas? People suspected of being involved in organised crime? Terrorist suspects? Perhaps, even political dissidents? Are the people all external (citizens of non-EU countries) or internal (citizens of EU countries)?
"For what purposes are these records used? To whom or to what are they passed? Are they ever passed to third countries (non EU countries)?
Mr Belser*** said that there were between half a million and a million people resident in the Netherlands with French passports based on false French documents (‘breeder documents’ such as faked birth certificates). These figures can presumably be replicated for other member states, especially the more affluent ones. People are less likely to target poor countries.
"These people on false documents must nearly all be illegal immigrants. This suggests that illegal immigration is simply out of control.
"Who is responsible for producing the false documents? Is it organised crime? Perhaps attention should be focused on discovering and stopping them?"
* Head of the Unit for Transeuropean Networks for Freedom and Security.
** SIS II is the new IT system for EU Border Management which will replace its predecessor SIS I from 9th April 2013 (the transfer being complete on 9th May 2013).
*** Ministry of Security and Justice, the Netherlands.
Responses to Questions:
Mr Tudoache said that the increased capacity was necessary because of: enlargement of the EU; greater use of the system; assessment of future needs; and greater mobility of people.
He said that the records were both of objects (false documents, seized firearms, stolen goods) and of people (people wanted under the European Arrest Warrant; missing persons). Some were EU citizens whilst others were from non-EU countries.
Mr Belser said that the illegal immigrants with false French documents in the Netherlands were from North Africa and the Caribbean. Many had been living in France where they had obtained their French passports on the basis of false ‘breeder’ documents such as false French passports. Many of these had been produced at home on personal computers.
Mr Belser did not say this, but it implied that the French authorities had not examined the documents as carefully as they might have done.
25th March 2013: Last week at the European Parliament in Brussels, Andrew Brons spoke during a debate held in the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee (LIBE) on Schengen II.
He told the Committee's MEPs:
"The Commissioner (Cecilia Malmström) said that Schengen depended on trust and for external borders (of the EU) to be secure. The problem is that external borders are not secure.
"A few months ago we heard a representative (the Executive Director) of FRONTEX (the border control agency), who started with the good news that FRONTEX was successful in apprehending nearly all of the illegal immigrants who crossed the border with Turkey. However, he followed his remarks with the bad news: that the illegal migrants were not detained for long but were simply given a piece of paper containing an order to leave the EU. However, the person was not forcibly removed. We heard from the Commissioner (Malmström) that Schengen was based on trust. Yes, illegal immigrants and failed asylum seekers are trusted to remove themselves.
"The arrival of illegal immigrants from North Africa has disrupted parts of Southern Europe and cost the lives of several migrants. Some are granted asylum and allowed to stay, others are refused asylum status and allowed to stay anyway.
"When the former Italian Government attempted forcibly to return illegal immigrants to the ports from which they embarked, it (the Government) it was censured. The laissez-faire policy of the EU towards illegal immigration is directly responsible for the deaths at sea of the illegal migrants from North Africa. If an illegal immigrant knows that it highly likely that he or she will be allowed the stay, the enormous risks seem worth taking.
"We heard from the Council (the improbably named Mr Shatter, a member of the Irish Government that holds the Presidency) that freedom of movement without frontiers within the Schengen Area was not intended to facilitate cross border crime. Of course not; nobody has suggested that it was. However, it has succeeded in doing just that. It allows the transport of drugs, arms, trafficked human beings and stolen property.
"Control of borders does not have to be time-consuming; it does not have to involve stopping every person or vehicle. The UK-French border at each end of the Channel Tunnel has demonstrated just that."
22nd March 2013: This week 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 a proposed data protection regulation with the emphasis on employees' data.
"Much of the substantive content of the proposed regulation, as distinct from its form and source (from the EU!) is commendable. It would provide additional protection beyond the 1995 Directive, by introducing the 'right to be forgotten' and stricter requirements before 'consent' could be used as a defence (by an employer about his employees' data). However, amendment 1 would allow consent to be used even when there is an imbalance between the parties but only when it is legally and financially advantageous to the employee. I would be interested to know in what sort of circumstances consent might be advantageous. Employees might be coerced into accepting a nominal payment for consent to be given.
"Amendment 4 (allowing data to be transferred within a group of companies) might have unintended consequences in these days of large multinational or global companies and groups and might result in data being transferred quite widely.
"I do have concerns about increased power and discretion being given to the Commission (in the original text written by the Commission!) through the creation of the 'consistency mechanism' and the power to pass delegating and implementing acts. However, amendment 7 proposes to delete some of these powers.
"Amendment 20 proposes that data, especially sensitive data such as the political orientation of an employee may under no circumstances be used to put workers on so-called blacklists. Furthermore it proposed that member states should conduct checks and adopt adequate sanctions to ensure effective implementation.
"However, in many countries, it is the state that imposes employment bans in the public sector on the grounds of political opinion and affiliation.
"It is not, of course, the task of data protection legislation to outlaw employment bans.
"However, is it proposed that such discriminatory bans should continue but only on the basis of whispers, gossip and information passed by word of mouth?"
20th March 2013: At the European Parliament in Brussels this afternoon, Andrew Brons made the following contribution to a debate in the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee (LIBE) on the proposed amendment of an EU regulation on drug precursors*.
"I am wholly in favour of the substantive content of this measure. This is one of those limited areas of legislation where the law must be uniform internationally. If the EU did not exist (which I would prefer) this measure would have to have been brought into being by ad hoc international agreement or treaty.
"I believe that the proposal when amended will strike the right balance between necessary enforcement and data protection.
"This is one of those rare areas in which I shall probably be supporting EU legislation."
* Drug precursors are substances that are not themselves narcotics and have legitimate uses. However, they can be used in the production of illegal drugs. In particular, acetic anhydride (AA) can be used for the production of plastics, textiles, dyes and perfumes. However, it can also be used in the production of amphetamines, cocaine and heroin. This regulation is designed to strengthen the law by providing a strengthened system of regulation and licensing to monitor the trade in drug precursors and thereby to prevent their misuse in the production of illegal drugs.