Friday, May 27, 2005

Yesterday’s Motion of Censure debate.

This could well be regarded as a bore but I will here try to put down a near verbatim report of the debate. The reason is that it is very hard to collate such a report from the European Parliament’s server, and even when you do- the debates are posted by name of participant, so if you don’t know who was speaking you are stuffed.
Also I have machine translated the foriegnese, and finessed it as I did at least hear the simultaneous translation.

I hope that you will bear with me in what will be the longest post that I have and ever will post, its just otherwise nobody will; quite understand what happened, other than through the good offices of a bought up press corps.


Nigel Farage (IND/DEM), author. – Mr President, I wish to say to Mr Barroso that it is nice to see everyone here today. It has taken some time to organise this get-together. I am conscious that many of the Commissioners would much rather be in France campaigning for a ‘Yes’ vote. However, they are here for a very simple reason: I wrote to all of them on 3 February asking what free holidays and hospitality they had received since becoming European Commissioners – but answers came there none!

Luckily, the Die Welt newspaper has produced a series of revelations. It informed us that Mr Barroso had enjoyed a cruise aboard a luxury yacht owned by Spiro Latsis, who has done business with the EU institutions for many years, and whose Lamda shipyards, just one month after this holiday, received the green light from the European Commission for a ten-million-euro grant. Just last week a Latsis company – the Aegean Motorways Group – was put on a shortlist of two for the lucrative Athens to Thessaloniki motorway project. I now see that even within the European Commission itself, the head of the Bureau of European Policy Advisers, Mr Sidjanski, also speaks for the Latsis Foundation. Thank goodness for Die Welt!

We also learned that Mr Mandelson enjoyed a holiday with the lobbyist Peter Brown, and that he also went on a luxury yacht owned by the Microsoft co-founder, Paul Allen.

Last November, at President Barroso’s inauguration, I asked of this Commission: ‘Would you buy a used car from them?’. I suppose I should have said ‘a luxury yacht’! What fair-minded person could think that the Commission should police itself in this regard? I have not accused Mr Barroso or any of the Commissioners of any wrongdoing, but it is a case of Caesar’s wife; it is a case that you have to be seen to be above suspicion.

However, Mr Barroso’s reaction was one of denial. He stated in his letter – when it finally arrived – that ‘hospitality is a normal fact of private life’. He obviously has a better circle of friends than me, but no matter. Was the relationship with Mr Latsis really purely personal? Was there really no conflict of interests? If that is the case, perhaps Mr Barroso could tell me why he resigned the maritime portfolio shortly thereafter? I suggest that he did possibly feel compromised.

I hope that Mr Barroso will make some concessions today. We all hope that he will. However, he should remember that what we are asking for is full disclosure. As long ago as 1961, President Kennedy introduced a code of this type into the White House. It can be done and it should be done! By ignoring my simple request and by maintaining that these free holidays do not constitute a conflict of interests, Mr Barroso has put himself in an unenviable position. When in a hole, one should stop digging, and I therefore ask him to give us full disclosure.

However, none of this would have happened if it had not been for the bravery of 77 Members of this House. These independently minded people have been subject to very unpleasant threats and bullying. Mr President, with your permission and pursuant to Rule 141(4), I give way to my colleague, Mr Helmer, to put a question to me.
(Mixed reactions)

At this point the President Borrell refused his permission and said something along the lines of;
“I think I decide who will speak in this chamber. Continue Mr Farage”


Nigel Farage (IND/DEM), author. – Thank you, Mr President! Nonetheless, there has been a lot of bullying going on. The leaders of the four big groups are so blinded by their belief in European integration that they simply cannot accept any criticism, particularly when it comes from dreaded eurosceptics like me. In fact, there are plenty of people on this list who will vote ‘Yes’ to the Constitution and who believe in the European project. It is simply a question of having this Parliament do its job! What is the European Parliament for? It cannot initiate legislation and it cannot repeal legislation. What it can do is hire and fire the bosses. It can hold to account the Commission: – the government of Europe, as I keep being told. I contend that this Parliament has failed and that it is the leaders of the four big groups who are in fact the guilty parties in this matter.

It happens time and again. Last November, when I revealed that Commissioner Barrot had recently received a criminal conviction for his part in an embezzlement case, what happened? I was attacked; I was called a hooligan; I was told I had behaved like a football supporter. However, all I had done was tell the truth!

In that episode, and in this one, Mr Schulz will say ‘something must be done’ and, like the Grand old Duke of York, he marches his ten thousand men up the hill, only to get a phone call from Gerhard Schröder and march them back down again!

I suppose that there is great irony in all this in that, as a very committed eurosceptic, I have been asked to lead this charge today. However, this is not an argument about whether the EU is a good thing or a bad thing. All we, the signatories, want is transparency and proper governmental procedures. We also want the European Parliament to stand up and to do its job for once!

(Applause)

At this point Borrell realised he had made an error in procedure and called Helmer; - I spoke to Borrell afterwards and he admitted a slight error;

Roger Helmer (PPE-DE). – Mr President, with your permission, I rise under Rule 141 to put a question to Mr Farage. I wonder whether he agrees with me that the pressure exerted by the larger groups to have signatures withdrawn from the motion of censure was an affront to democracy and transparency, and brought shame and disrepute on this House?

Does he agree with me that it was particularly discreditable for Mr Poettering to bring such pressure to bear on the British Conservatives, given that we were elected on a manifesto commitment to oppose fraud and corruption?

Finally, does he agree that it was inappropriate for the leader of the British Conservatives to demand withdrawal of Conservative signatures under the threat of ‘very serious consequences’?

Nigel Farage (IND/DEM). – Mr President, I agree with what Mr Helmer has just said, which I am sure is a surprise to everyone.
(Laughter)
I wish to thank him for illustrating so clearly the kinds of bullying tactics that have been employed. Frankly, the leaders of the four main groups should be ashamed of themselves for the way they have behaved.

(Applause)
José Manuel Barroso, President of the Commission. - Mr. President, Members of the European Parliament, the motion of censure which is the subject of this debate is obviously unjustified and deprived of any reason. Let me show you why.

Its authors introduced it with the reason that it is be the only way of obliging me to come to explain myself to plenary on the matter in question.

However, as you know perfectly well I am always at the disposal of the European Parliament. For me it is a question of respect in and interest about your institution, in a spirit of openness and transparency. The truth is that the vast majority of this Parliament, throiugh the Conferance of Presidents, believes that this issue failed to justify a debate in plenary. It considered that if there were any questions, they had already received adequate answers in writing in my letter to President Borrell, April 22, 2005. I have thus, in good time provided all the explanations which were required of me.

The bottom line is that I do not have anything to add to this letter. Last August, with my family, I spent one week with a former professor and friend, at the invitation of another mutual friend, on the personal boat of the latter in Greece. My relations with them go back to the time when I was at the University of Geneva, twenty years ago . In other words, these are acts of a personal and academic relation of long standing, previous to my entry into politics and whose nature has remained unchanged. We never talked about subjects of commercial interest and I was not informed of an unspecified links between him and the Commission likely to justify a suspicion of conflict of interests.

The author of the motion of censure claims that these few days of holiday between friends raises questions over a decision of the Commission authorizing a State aid in Greece, and more generally compared to the Commission’s approach to ethical matters. This assertion is in bad faith. There is no link between this fact of my private life and the activities of the Commission.

As regards the decision of the Commission authorizing a State aid in Greece, I recall that it was taken by the former college, chaired by Mr. Prodi, on the basis of proposal of Mr. Monti, at a time when I was not any responsible within the Commission, which truly illustrates the unjust character, unjustified, illegitimate and absurdity of this motion of censure against this Commission.
(Applause)
This shift in time that the author of motion forgot to mention in the text of this motion - explains why some signed the motion without knowing truly what it was about – it shows with the deliberate manouevering which its author made. Moreover, I note that the current college is working, under my impulse and authority, on the most strict rules as regards to conflicts of interest and transparency ever enacted on the level of the institutions of the European Union.

Therefore, this motion of censure rests upon an dishonest suggestion. The fact that Members of the Commission can have personal relations, of exactly same nature as before their entry in their position and without any connection to it, is not and cannot in itself be described as a conflict of interests. The fact that someone can have friendship with and knowledge of a Member of the Commission and that someone can be affected by the policy of the Commission is not and cannot, in itself, justify a suspicion of conflict of interest. That is as true for the Commission as it is Members of the European Parliament or the members of Governments because, insofar as there is not a single political leader who does not have friends, the logic of the authors of the motion of censure pushed to the extreme would paralyse any democratic political process. I said it and I repeat it, it would be absurd.

But if the motion of censure is absurd, why am I here today? Why did I come, whereas, for example, my predecessor at the time of the debate of the last motion of censure sent a representative rather than to come himself? I came because I believe that it is important to know the feeling of this Parliament with regard to this political type of manouvre.
(Applause)
If I am here, it is because I consider that this motion does not constitute an attack directed specifically against my person. I do not have anything against the author of the motion and I believe that, on a
personal level, he does not have anything against me. He finds it only very strange to recieve an invitation to spend a few days in boat. It is true that I do not know anybody who would have courage to invite him for only one day on a boat. I understand the problem very well.
(Laughter and applause)
It is thus not a personal question, but it is a serious institutional issue because this type of attack, Mr. President, Members of Parliament, is part of a populist tendency, a tendency which resorts in simplifying important and complex subjects, a tendency against the Europe which we are building.
(Applause)
In fact, this motion calls upon essential values and concepts of the democracy, such as ethics and transparency, but it does it by dishonest means, through dissimulation. It seeks to hide its true objective which is to undermine the credibility of the institutions of the Union and the whole work of integration in the place of a debate of ideas through the manufacture of alleged scandals. And here, Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemn, one crosses the threshold which separates democracy from the demagogy. We cannot accept this abuse the democracy.
(Applause)
Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen, Members, the citizens of our Europe do not want political spectacle. Europeans reject gutter politics. I am sure that the immense majority of this Parliament thinks the same thing and that is clear.

(Applaudissements)
The political challenges which rise for us today require us to carry out simuylatnously deep thought and hard work. It is completely legitimate to be more or less enthusiastic about the European Union. It is completely legitimate to be more or less critical on the positions taken by the Commission, or by the European Parliament. It is completely legitimate to have various political visions. But what is not legitimate is to make one European institution oppose another.
What is not legitimate is the misuse of procedure of the type of that with which we are now confronted with, this motion of censure; they are the amalgams, the insinuations, the process of intention which do not rest on reality and which do not make the debate move forward in a constructive way.
Quite to the contrary, they deprive the citizens of Europe of what they have the right to demand: that we concentrate on their demands, their concern, their problems.

The extremist approach of the author of the motion of censure seeks to darken the issues rather than to clarify them. I repeat in front of you, Mr. President, in front of you all, Members of
Parliament, the committment of all my college and myself to the highest requirements of deontology and transparency. I repeat our offer of dialogue with your Parliament. I repeat our recognition for the support and solidarity testified by the immense majority among you and, saying that, I think in particular of those and those which do not agree always with me on the ideological questions but which nevertheless made a point of being dissociated from this political type of manoeuvre against the Commission.

It is in this spirit, and I believe that it will be the only merit of this debate, that I ask you to censure the motion of censure by rejecting it massively. It is that the positive signal which we can send from here to all Europe: the censure of this motion of censure because that it is the best way of serving the democracy which is the heart of our Europe.

(Applause)
Hans Gert Poettering, speaking for the EPP/ED group. –
Mr. Commission President, my very much admired, dear colleagues! There are debates, in which one takes part from obligation feeling and responsibility for the European project and its institutions, and such a debate takes place today.

The initiators of the motion of no confidence point to article 201 of the EEC Treaty and article 100 of our rules of procedure. We respect this right, but we say also that the applicants, by taking this right up cancel these rights, because they are completely and obviously abused by the applicants.
(applause)
Even the parliamentary group leaders already mentioned and my colleague and friend, the chairmen of the UEN parliamentary group, Bryan Crowley, who let me know that he follows our initiative of the 13th May. We said, we consider the request of the authors of this initiative unjustified and excessively.

Let me today add: I consider this request humanly indecently and politically transparent, because it is directed against the agreement of our continent.
(applause)
The president of the commission pointed out that the holiday – to my knowledge - took place in the second half of August.
The permission of the commission over circumstances mentioned in the motion took place on 23th September, the confidence vote in the Barroso Commission took place here on 18th November and they assumed office on 22nd November.

This shows that the Prodi Commission was responsible for the permission . It shows the absurdity and incredibility of this request. This motion of no confidence collapses like a house of cards!
(applause)
Into reality the applicants are not attacking José Manuel Dourão Barroso. It is an attack on the
European institutions, the reliability of the commission and also the other European institutions. It is a hunt for persons, which is abused to bring the European institutions to discredit a few days before the referendum over the constitution in France and in the Netherlands.

Five members of our parliamentary group, from the ED part of the parliamentary group signed this motion, without informing the chairman of their national delegation, let alone consulting the leader of the parliamentary group. I tell you here: These five members place themselves thereby outside of the friendship of the EPP/ED parliamentary group.
Let me explain, Mr. Helmer that I have had more patience with you than any other political collegue. You have revoked your membership in the EEPP/ED parliamentary group, and since I have respect for each individual I wish you all the best for your future.
(applause)
Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear collegues! We have confidence in the Commission Presidents and in the commission.
Fourteen days ago we stated- and it was for me one of the highest moments of my political work here in the parliament – with an enormous majority of Europe together, with a great majority decision, in the rememberance of the historical truth of Europe our resolution on the 60th anniversary of the Second World War’s end. We know our responsibility, and we will not permit anybody to impair our
determination continue building this peace project of Europe Therefore, Mr. Commission President, continue in this work, you thereby have our support!

Martin Schulz, speaking on behalf of the PES group. –
Mr President, my dear colleagues! I heard othat the that relations ofthe President with the shipowner extends far back into the past back. By the way I must ask, Mr. President, whether he was with you in the Maoistic youth movement, then he would be it the only Maoistic billionaire in Europe.
(laughters)
My colleague Mr Poettering has, made, a very correct step. Who has parliamentary group colleagues like that, which you addressed honestly, Mr. Poettering, needs no more political opponents! To that extent I can congratulate you to the step, which you announced honestly, only seriously.
(applause)
What we have to discuss here, is already answered in the thing. The decisions which can allegedly be criticized are not a decision of this commission, led by Mr. Barroso. It was a decision of the Prodi commission and fell into the area of responsibility of Commissioner Monti. Thus this Commission need not answer for it is not to be answered for by this commission – as Mr Poettering made clear.

The applicants, at least the originators of this request, know that. One must place oneself thus the question, why the request was nevertheless brought in. It was made, in order to achieve precisily what we are doing now. That was the goal. There is no political background. The goal was the fact that the cameras stand there above the entrance to this hall crowdin, that’s what it is for: Just for show. Nothing more. That is the political substance, behind it.
(applause)
Mr. President, You have requirement to do what the parliament tells you, what it from you and your commission expects. We did that intensively at the Investiture of this commission. My parliamentary group did not argue with this commission for its own benefit. They can assume that: If there are points, which need criticism and complaint, then we will do that as a social-democratic parliamentary group. If there are substantial reproaches, then we will take them up. I am however not ready - here I speak for all my parliamentary group colleagues, to permit that slander and prejudice becoming parliamentary strategy. We are not ready to accept.
(applause)
Therefore I explain in the name of the social-democratic parliamentary group that we do not agree this request.

Graham Watson, on behalf of the ALDE group
Mr. President, in the name of the democrats and of the liberals in this house, I would like to say to the signatories of this motion of censure: ”You are ridiculous. You claim to say "J’accuse". Mr Farage, Mister de Villiers neither of you are Emile Zola, far from there. This motion is only one easy way to discredit the European Commission.

What is the true cause for those which present it? It is not transparency, for if such were the case, the signatures of at least four British ‘souverainists’ having refused to publish their financial interests on the Internet would not appear in the bottom of motion.
(Applause)
The signatories of this motion of censure have only one goal: to discredit the president of the Commission and simultaneously the whole Union. And why did they choose to make this step only a few days before the referendum in France and in the Netherlands? The step has nothing to do with what they claim: their goal is to cause the maximum of embarrassment for the Union before these popular consultations.

Mr Barroso, you must feel rather perplexed. We started a debate about hospitality. You volunteered us the information about your holiday with Mr Latsis as an example: a friendship of long duration, a holiday accepted before you took office, before there was any debate about whether you might assume certain responsibilities you are now accused of abusing – quite apart from the fact that there is hardly a major industry in Europe which does not receive some government support. And if you had no contacts with industrialists, you would have as few friends as Mr Farage!
(Laughter)
Liberals and Democrats will defend accountability and transparency in all of the European Union’s business. It is part and parcel of a government’s contract with the electorate. We are proud to have been at the forefront of this campaign. We all know there is a case for greater transparency. Under President Pat Cox, under President Borrell, through inter-institutional agreements with the Commission, we have made, and we continue to make, progress. The Commission’s code of conduct was revised with the entry of your Commission. It probably needs to be more explicit about the notion of hospitality.

We also defend the right of Members to bring a motion of censure under our Rules, but such tools should be used with caution and Members should beware that frivolous use such as this risks discrediting both the tool that Rule 100 gives us and this House. This debate is a deflection from serious business. We must all be vigilant on matters of public accountability, but we must also let the Commission get on with the job of bringing the European Union’s Member States closer together.

Europe needs builders, not a demolition squad; MEPs who look forward, not those who look back; parliamentarians who see opportunities, not those who exploit difficulties. There is room for diversity of view about the future of the European Union, provided those views are presented honestly and openly through public debate. As a recent election in the country I know best shows, when they are, they get very, very little support.

I trust that this House will give a clear answer to the signatories of today’s motion.
(Applause)

Monica Frassoni, Miguel Portas and Jens Peter Bonde then spoke for their respective Groups

Brian Crowley, on behalf of the UEN Group. –
Mr President, I would like to thank the Commission President for coming to the Chamber to respond to the motion tabled by some of my colleagues. I was at the Conference of Presidents meeting which took the decision that there was no substance to the allegations being presented, and that it was right that President Barroso should respond by letter. The Conference of Presidents took on board his opinion, as expressed in that letter, that there was nothing to substantiate the allegations made.

Be that as it may, I do not deny Members and colleagues the opportunity to table this motion of censure. The fact that it makes them look ridiculous, takes up our time and diverts us from dealing with really important issues that affect the everyday lives of European citizens obviously does not matter to them. It matters to me.

We have a situation in which conspiracy theories, innuendo and general misconceptions, lies and myths are told about what goes on in the ‘dark corridors’ and ‘cubby holes’ of the European Commission. We are told we should be afraid of the danger lurking behind us, and that things are happening that we do not know about, when the reality is that every single decision taken is accountable. Every single action taken is not taken in an exclusive format or by one person, but goes through a host of motions and a series of individuals and organisations before a final decision is reached.

What we are really witnessing today is opportunism of the most crass and basest order. It is an opportunism which seeks to create a myth that ‘there is danger lurking out there’, predicated on the basis that we are the white angels who shine the light into dark corners. That is what the authors of this motion would have us believe. However, the reality is that they are trying to prevent positive action being taken, and to prevent real debate taking place on issues of concern to the people of Europe. Most importantly of all, this is an attempt to undermine a project in progress for the good of all the peoples of Europe. As we have seen with the most recent enlargement, it is one which continues to progress.

Finally, Mr President, I would like to thank President Barroso for coming to the Chamber. I apologise for being a member of a Conference of Presidents which may have put you in the embarrassing position of thinking you would not have to come to the Chamber. However, I know that in the future you will recognise it depends very much on who is asking the question, and then you will decide whether or not you should come.

Hans-Peter Martin (NI). – spoke (a signatory)

(Beifall)
José Manuel Barroso, President of the Commission- Mr. President, first of all, I would like to thank all the political groups. In fact all the groups, except for that which is at the origin of this motion of censure, refused the terms of motion and I thank them. I believe indeed that they all helped us, in the European institutions, to send a clear signal of our determination to the distinction between democracy and demagogy.

‘I should add that the rules applied to members of the Commission are stricter than those currently applied in most Member States. Nevertheless, the question has been raised of whether additional rules in this area would be helpful.’ Some of you, like Mr Watson, have spoken about that possibility.

I then said to President Borrell that it is perhaps useful to recall that the Commission proposed an agreement to create an advisory group on standards in public life back in November 2000, which would have covered the European Parliament, the Council, the Court of Justice, the Court of Auditors, the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions, as well as the Commission. That proposal is still on the table and the Commission is of course ready to discuss it with the other institutions.

Members, I want to make clear, the Commission is ready to work in a constructive way with you all in favour of the transparency, of good a governance, good a accountability within our institutions. But what I cannot accept as a president of the Commission, it is this suspicion of the institution which I have the honour to chair, this is an anathema: that I cannot accept.
We will work together for more transparency but we will not yield to the demagogy. And I thank all the political groups today to have made this distinction between demagogy and democracy and for thus supporting to our idea of Europe.
(Applause)

1 comment:

tim said...

Thanks for posting that - it needed to be done and I certainly benefitted from reading it.
Tim

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