The imperceptible rise of arbitrary government in Brussels.
Something very funny is going on in the European Parliament, and something that should concern every citizen of every member state of the Union. That is the slow and deliberate leaching of power into the hands of the executive and the elite.
It does not matter where one stands on the great issue of integration or decentralisation of power in Europe. It is the principle at stake.
When power is concentrated in the hands of one person. When that power resides in that persons hands and no other. When that power is arbitrary and discretionary. Then what we are talking about is a form of dictatorship.
The actions of the President's office over the past two weeks therefore can be described in those terms.
Today the Constitutional Affairs Committee of the European Parliament sitting in Brussels will deliberate and respond to a direct request from the President, Hans-Gert Pöttering. The request asks for the President of Parliament to have discretion over, "points of order, procedural motions, explanations of vote". He also wishes to curtail the right of the citizen to know how their elected politicians have voted by barring attempts to count votes by roll call. What this means is that the only way in which the elected MEPs can call the Commission to account, by use of a Motion of Censure is entirely in the gift of the President. He is doing this through trying to jemmy open rule 19.1,
"1. The President shall direct all the activities of Parliament and its bodies under the conditions laid down in these Rules. He shall enjoy all the powers necessary to preside over the proceedings of Parliament and to ensure that they are properly conducted."Of course as this rule points out this should be properly conducted, "under the conditions laid down in these Rules".
Thus the last fig leaf of accountability is stripped away from this chimera of a Parliament.
His precipitous actions have been caused by a group of concerned MEPs from a number of countries who have as he puts it, used the rules of procedure in a way that is "formally based on and fulfilled the requirements of a provision of the Rules" but in his opinion were "moved with the intention of obstructing the procedures of the house".
Of course included in his ambition is to rule out of order things that in his opinion are not acceptable. But his job as President is to defend the rights of individual members, not to sure up the tyranny of the massive majority.
This of course is very much in line with the extraordinary comments made to Secretary General of the Independence/Democracy Group last week when Mr Romer the Secretary General of the Parliament and Klaus Welle, head of Poettering's private office told him that they did not feel that the application for roll call votes made by the group were 'the intention of the rules'.
It is NOT the job of civil servants, be they ever so mighty, to interpret the rules. That is the job of judges. It is their job to apply them fairly without let or favour. Anything else is another small step in the creation of a post democratic superstate, when only they and their friends in the elite have any say on how we the people are governed.
What is astounding is the short fuse those who presume to govern us have. Look at the electoral mathematics. In any vote they win. Thus they have nothing to fear from the actions of an elected minority acting within the law to defend their own political position. There is no need to break the rules. He has no need to award himself such overweening power. So why do it?
The only answer must be shame. Shame that he knows that is the voice of dissent is allowed its few seconds then the people might just notice. The people who have voted no to the Constitution and who want to have a say in their own future. Shame that he knows that in his own country if the people were consulted they would reject his controlling and statist vision of the future. Shame that he has become what he most fears. An autocrat.
Shame on him then.
In the Constitutional Affairs Committee debate this evening, Labour (Richard Corbett) and the Lib Dems (Andrew Duff) gave the proposal complete support. The Tories (Timothy Kirkhope bizarrely boasting about being a whip during the Maastricht debates in 1992) gave very lukewarm oppoition. The vote has been postponed until tomorrow as the Chairman Jo Lienen could see that it would be tight.
He assumes, and I suspect accurately that most sceptical voices will leave for their home countries tonight.