Monday, March 31, 2008

The growth of bureacratic despotism

You might recall the fuss made about Danial Hannan and the aggregating of power in the hands of the President of the European Parliament. Hannan suggested that giving the President arbitrary power over the rules of procedure and so on was akin to the National Socialist Enabling Act, which resulted in him being chucked out of the EPP and wild allegations against him.

Well it seems that we now have the written equivalent of those powers. I give you the latest Richard Corbett report to hit the Constitutional Affairs Committee,

Draft Report on amendment of Parliament's Rules of Procedure in the light of the proposals by the Working Party on Parliamentary Reform concerning the work of the Plenary and initiative reports
Are you asleep yet? No, well read on. This report has been quite a long time in gestation, but has been given some urgency by the way in which the institutions of the European Union are gearing up to a post Constitutional ratification world. A world in which they get their way and dissent shall not be brooked.

I protest too much you might assume. OK then please tell me what this amendment could possibly be for? (Rule of Procedure 110 is the rule governing Parliamentary Questions to the Commission or Council - the Corbett Amendment is in italics),

Amendment 6
Rule 110, paragraph 2

2. Questions shall be submitted in writing to the President who shall forward them to the institution concerned. Doubts concerning the admissibility of a question shall be settled by the President. His decision shall be notified to the questioner.
Currently the questions are sent to the administration and if they are incorrectly or flabbily worded the civil servant at the tabling office will often send through a steer on how they might be amended to make everybody's life easier. However the tabling office has no right to refuse any question. There is not right of appeal set out in this amendment or Amendment 11 that sets out the guidelines for Parliamentary Questions,

Amendment 11
Annex II a (new)
Guidelines for questions for written answer under Rule 110
1. Questions for written answer shall:
- refer to matters which come within the European Union's fields of activity;
- be concise and contain an understandable interrogation;
- not contain offensive language;
- not relate to strictly personal matters.
Why can't the questions be "offensive"? According to the explanatory memorandum,

This point in particular should prevent any possible outrages to the fundamental values of the European Union.
Fundamental values cannot be outraged. Only people can be outraged. Values are abstract. For pities sake, is he saying that some poor admin official in the Commission might come over with a fit of the vapours at an impertinent suggestion? Anyhow, I wonder if there ever have been "offensive" questions, and if so what did they say? And if not why introduce a rule barring them?

About the striking out of "strictly personal matters" from admissibility, there is not a word of justification. However would questions such as, "Who did you go on holiday with Mr Commissioner?" or "Were you sleeping with your Chef de Cabinet before you gave her the job Mr Commissioner?" be barred under this rule? Of course they would.

Fundamentally the tabling office can still make suggestions, but the difference is that the President can rule a question out of order.

The problems with this are legion, but the most obvious is this. Hans-Gert Pöttering may, or may not be the committed democrat as stated by Mr Hannan. But we have no way of telling what the political character of a future President might be. Thus to create rules like this that concentrate increasing arbitrary powers in the hands of the President is constitutionally foolhardy, indeed dangerous. Of course what concerns does Mr Corbett have? That the poor fellow might find himself overworked,
However, in order to respond to fears that an excessive workload could be a hindrance to her/his activity, it has to be observed that pursuant to Rule 20(3) the President will always benefit from the possibility of delegating the exercise of the powers under Rule 110(2) to a Vice-president.
Now let us turn our attention to Amendment 7. Here I must explain there are two forms of Parliamentary Questions. Priority and general. MEPs are allowed very limited urgent questions that must be answered within three weeks, that is one per month. However the use of non-priority questions are unlimited. Or they have been until now,

Amendment 7
Rule 110, paragraph 4, subparagraph 2

Other questions (non-priority questions) shall be answered within six weeks of being forwarded to the institution concerned. Each Member may table up to three non-priority questions each month.
What Corbett is proposing is nothing less than the limiting of an MEPs right to hold the Executive of the European Union, that is the Commission and Council, to account. His reasoning is this,

The criteria are formulated in a form, which fully respects the right of Members to address written questions to the Commission and to expect an answer in due time. On the other hand clear provisions are introduced to avert any abuses of this right, notably the new limit of three for non-priority questions
Parliamentarians asking questions is NOT and abuse of their rights Mr Corbett. Restructuring their right to do so is an abuse of the Rules of Procedure and a direct threat to the lifeblood of any functioning representative democracy. It doesn't seem that you care about that, and for that you should be roundly castigated.
Comment Forum

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It's all a disgrace.

However, one must point out that since the European Parliament is itself not really a democratic institution anyway, in that it can't originate legislation, or refuse to pass that which the Commission presents to it, it matters little what its internal procedures are, since it essentially merely an impotent talking shop.

Can we leave yet?