13th April 2014: On Thursday at the European Parliament in Brussels, Andrew Brons made his final contribution to a debate in the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee (LIBE) on a European Court of Justice decision nullifying a Directive that called for data to be collected on telephone numbers called, e-mail addresses communicated to and websites visited.
"Even after the implementation of this ECJ judgment, the danger is that serious or organised crime or terrorism might have been the pretext or even the real reason for collecting data. However, even when the suspicion of crime has been dispelled, the information might be used for another purpose. – to enforce an occupational ban on those with particular political opinions, which exist in many member states. "Did the court ruling consider this point?
"We know that the ECJ ruling will affect only the validity of the Directive and not the national legislation that has been passed under it. Will the ECJ judgment lead to a fresh directive calling on member states to repeal legislation passed under this directive?"
13th April 2014: On Thursday 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 prison conditions in Italy.
"I noticed, on the second page of the Report, that of the 60,828 detainees, 29,000 – almost half of them - were foreign citizens, mainly from Romania, Morocco, Albania and Tunisia. I am reliably informed that a disproportionate number of the Romanian citizens detained were from the Roma community.
"Is this yet another example of wicked discrimination against certain ethnic groups? If it should not be capable of being explained as discrimination, there would be only one other explanation. That would be the explanation that dare not speak its name as Oscar Wilde might have called it!
"That being said, the Report and many of the proposals were impressive and shocking and many of the proposals were reasoned and constructive. Even the 60% of the prison population who had been convicted and sentenced, had not been sentenced to endure sub-human conditions.
"Torture was mentioned and it cannot be tolerated under any conditions or circumstances. However, torture has been routinely used by some countries in which torture is a specific criminal offence.
"We now know that the UK Government of Tony Blair, that co-operated with the US Government on special rendition knew of the torture that was used on suspects.
"Until political leaders who indulge in, or condone torture, are brought to account, the issue of torture in this or that prison will not be addressed."
13th April 2014: On Thursday 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 Justice Scoreboard*.
"I am sure that the scoreboard approach appears to be objective and that it is a reassuring exercise. However, there might be flaws in a legal system that would not feature on the scoreboard.
"For example, how many campaigning politicians have been prosecuted? How many opposition politicians been imprisoned pending a trial that does not seem to come any nearer?
"This is important because when governments abuse judicial systems, they do so against their political opponents."
* The Justice Scoreboard is an attempt to identify objective criteria according to which a country’s justice system could be judged to be ‘just’.
10th April 2014: Today 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 Protocol 36, Article 10, attached to the Lisbon Treaty about the opt-out of the United Kingdom from 135 measures and the intention to opt back into 35 of these measures (on Justice and Home Affairs).
"One of the measures that the UK Government has decided that it would like to opt back into is the European Arrest Warrant.
"I was interested in the explanation provided by the Legal Department but I shall not delve into the labyrinth of conditions according to which the UK might or might not be able to opt back in selectively.
"That it wishes to opt back into the European Arrest Warrant is, in my opinion regrettable because the court in the executing country does not have the power to to refuse extradition on the ground of insufficient evidence or indeed a complete lack of evidence. It can refuse extradition only on the grounds of procedure or proportionality.
"This is not a question only of sovereignty. It is a question of justice."
10th April 2014: Today 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 ‘visa packages’.
"We heard some very interesting figures purporting to show the economic advantages of visa facilitation or visa liberalisation or new types of visa.
"Whilst it might be easy to calculate the number of people who do visit member states, how can we calculate the number of people who fail to come to EU member states but would come with visa facilitation?
"This seems like adding the first two numbers we think of and then calculating them to three decimal places. But perhaps I am just a cynic.
Response from the Commission"
"Of course we don’t have hard figures, we have estimates based on studies that have been conducted. Similar figures come from studies (conducted) last year. However, estimates are only estimates."
2nd April 2014: Yesterday afternoon at the European Parliament in Brussels, Andrew Brons asked the following questions during a debate in the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee (LIBE) after a presentation from three Greek ministers on the 'state of play' of the Greek Presidency of the Council*.
"The Minister of Justice mentioned the European habeas corpus** and referred to abuse of rights by state authorities. I must say that the European version of this instrument was something that had, until this afternoon, escaped my attention.
"Has he found any need to prevent member states from depriving their political opponents of their human rights and, in particular, their liberty?
"He mentioned the need to discuss the Rule of Law with the Commission. Did he have any country in mind? Have we seen people or perhaps parties punished, without, or in advance of, judicial processes?
"These issues are important because we would all deprecate people having their rights abused by state authorities. If it should happen in member states, that would be a matter of even greater concern.
"I am pleased to see that the Presidency of the Cradle of Democracy is of the same mind."
Reply from the Minister of Justice, Mr Athanassiou:
"Of course, we should protect the Rule of Law. I could not answer if I were aware of any state......... (that had broken the Rule of Law?)
The Rule of Law and Separation of Powers first started in in my country. In some countries, one branch (of government) interferes with the work of another branch. We cannot interfere with the Judiciary. Our guiding principle must always be the Rule of Law."
* A different member state takes over the Presidency of the Council ever six months for the following six months. The Greek Presidency of the Council began on 1st January 2014 and will last until 30th June 2014.
** Habeas corpus is a legal instrument (a prerogative writ) that might in England and Wales be sought from the High Court to force a person or institution to justify the detention of a person in custody
1st April 2014: This morning 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) following a communication by the Commission (represented by Mrs Le Bail, Director General for Justice) on the Rule of Law.
"The Rule of Law means that people should not be punished except for a distinct breach of the law and that all people are subject to the law.
"However, there are loop holes.
"Laws can be devised so that only your political opponents run the risk of being caught by them. There are all kinds of incitement law - ethnicity, gender, disability etc. However, there are no laws preventing incitement to hatred on political grounds. Perhaps the wrong people would be prosecuted.
"Last year, we saw the leaders of a political party in Greece being detained on Sovietesque charges of heading a criminal organisation, following the appalling murder of a left wing activist, with whose death they were not charged. I know little about this party and I might not like what I have been told but that is not the point.
"In 2003, in Germany, there were attempts to ban a political party on the basis of incriminating speeches made by some of its members until it was discovered by the German Constitutional Court that the members in question were state agents. (Following the collapse of this case), there ought to have been a long and intensive inquiry into this case but there was none.
"We in AFCO have recently been discussing the hurdles for establishing European Political Parties, which will allow favoured parties to be registered and prevent un-favoured parties.
1st April 2014: This morning at the European Parliament in Brussels, Andrew Brons asked the following question during a debate in the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee (LIBE) on the 2014 Work Programme of FRONTEX (the EU borders agency).
"Your procedures are, of course, subject to obligations and constraints established by EU law. Could you identify any of those legal obligations or constraints that made your job more difficult or less effective?
"I am not, of course, asking for your opinion on whether the restrictions are justified (I would not lead you into that minefield) but simply their effect on your work.
"For example, have the restrictions on the amount of time that people can be detained and the consequent reliance on voluntary return led to the failure of the returns policy?"
Andrew's comment on the response:
"Mr Gil Arias Fernandez, Deputy Executive Director of FRONTEX, claimed that once a migrant had entered a country in the EU he/she became the responsibility of the national authorities.
Whilst this might be strictly true, FRONTEX does co-operate with the member state concerned for a long time afterwards."
1st April 2014: This morning 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 the deaths in the Mediterranean of illegal migrants trying to reach Europe.
"The Task Force Mediterranean was set up to, 'take determined action to prevent deaths at sea'.
"Before something can be prevented, it is necessary to know why it happens.
"The deaths in the Mediterranean happen because people are prepared to risk themselves and others in inappropriate boats to reach Europe.
"Why do they take that risk? It is because, if they land in Europe or are rescued at sea and then taken to Europe, they might be granted asylum - not necessarily because they are personally in danger but because they come from a dangerous country and there are plenty of those in the world.
"If they are refused asylum and given a returns decision, they will have only about a 36% chance of being returned - 178,000 out of total of 474,000 in 2012.
"You will remember hearing that in the debate on Returns Policy yesterday, or no you will not remember, because I was the only member of the Committee in the audience. I became quite lonely at one point.
"So who is responsible for their deaths? The people who frame the asylum laws and allow people to stay. Secondly, those responsible for Returns Policy who fail to return most of them.
"Those who hold out the prize of asylum, attract people to take their chance.
"How can we prevent further deaths?
"We can announce loudly and clearly that no people who land in the EU or attempt to land in the EU without authorisation, are even considered for asylum. When that is understood, there will be no more deaths in the Mediterranean.
"Continue with the present and there will be more and more deaths- The choice is ours.
"We have been told this morning (by Mr Muschel, Director for Migration and Asylum) that we can cut down on illegal migration by increasing legal migration.
"You can reduce breaches of any law by allowing potential law breakers to do legally what they were going to do illegally!
31st March 2014: This afternoon 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 Commission Statement on EU Returns Policy.
"I would not normally be arrogant enough to claim to speak on behalf of the whole audience but on this occasion I am the whole audience - the only MEP present in the audience (excluding the Vice President on the platform).
"Sometimes people - and this includes the Commission - communicate true motivations unintentionally.
" 'The return of third country nationals without legal grounds to stay is essential to the credibility of an EU legal migration and asylum policy'.
"So, there you have it, the introduction to the statement. A Returns Policy's purpose is to provide credibility for the EU bringing more and more immigrants through official channels. Its purpose is to allay concern.
"You might have noticed that there is no use of the words 'complete' or 'comprehensive' before the words 'returns policy'. That is just as well, because only a fraction of those issued with a 'return decision' (Euro Speak for an order to go) eventually leave. That was 178,000 out of a total of 484,000 in 2012 - about 36% by my mental arithmetic calculation.
"The reason for this is that those given a return decision are rarely returned forcibly and there is usually no check on whether the person has left.
"The Commission document expresses surprise that people, who have entered the EU without authority, are not going to leave the EU voluntarily, when not forced to do so.
"I remember a student of mine told me that he had lied on a visa form for the United States and he was stopped at the (United States) airport and put onto a return flight immediately.
"A returns policy is not difficult if it is intended to succeed."