Friday, January 20, 2006

The latest wheeze of Dan Hannan and some other eurosceptic MEPs is to claim that the European Parliament is trying to 'gag' them!

Almost all parliaments have rules in order to protect themselves against disruptive behaviour aimed at preventing them from working. Not that the rules need to be used very often; but they are there to safeguard the democratic process.

Until now, the European Parliament lacked a clear set of rules on this - and it finally got around to adopting some yesterday. They are modest. They give the President of Parliament powers that are far less than the powers of, for instance, the Speaker of the House of Commons. They are strictly circumscribed and are combined with safeguards to reassure those colleagues who feared that the President might clamp down on any kind of behaviour that was in any way colourful or lively. It does not ban vibrant debate or even visual displays, but only behaviour that any parliament would find unacceptable. The President's powers range from giving a reprimand to a Member to suspending him or her for a maximum of ten days. (If suspended, the Member would still be able to vote.)

A coherent and proportionate set of rules to protect Parliament, if necessary, became clear after some recent incidents, such as one involving an Italian MEP who tried to disrupt a formal address by the President of Italy. And let us not forget that, at the last European election, Kilroy-Silk said his ambition was to wreck the Parliament and prevent it from working. In the end, he simply disappearded without trace - but, who knows, he might, in combination with others, have made a serious effort to stop Parliament from working.

The suggestion that these rules would gag a particular viewpoint is preposterous. All views, including eurosceptic ones, are freely expressed in Parliament - and always have been, in a Parliament that contains the whole political spectrum from communists to the far-right. In fact, this reform was drafted by a Green MEP - hardly likely to want to clamp down on colourfully-expressed minority viewpoints!

Dan Hannan's comments are therefore aimed at gullible journalists hoping to get an anti-Europe story out of nothing. Unless, that is, he really thinks that these rules will target him - in which case he is either actually planning to disrupt Parliament's work, or he is paranoid. Given his general attitude to the European Union – that every aspect of it is evil – I rather think it is paranoia.