Richard Corbett's report was up for voting at 10.00, but from a quick count it became apparent that the little groups had got their act together and had the numbers to win. At which point the Chairman, Jo Leinen started a filibuster. He was abetted by other Socialist and Christian Democrats one of whom a Greek socialist named Costas Botopolous made the procedure transparent by saying,
"We must continue this debate, that will give us time to get more members into Committee for the vote".Anyhow, after half an hour they though they had the numbers. Wrong call, the opposition including two UKIP MEPs (Graham Booth and Mike Nattrass) won by a single vote. This meant that legally the whole report fell and would have to go back to the drawing board. This in turn would mean that the report, scheduled to go to the full parliamentary plenary in July would not get its new first reading in Committee until after the summer recess, which would inevitably mean that it would not get its second reading in Committee until after Christmas, which would mean that it probably would not get to plenary in time to have an impact before the next European elections.
Therefore the rules governing the formation of groups would stay as they are and there would still be an effective Eurosceptic presence in the parliament. Not something that the elite want to see.
The net result of this was that Corbett himself was raging. I know Richard and can tell by the tone of his voice how angry and disappointed he was. I am not sure if he has ever lost any vote on one of his myriad reports on procedural tampering. This was lesse majestie of the first order.
So after some harumphing the only Tory in the room, Timothy Kirkhope, who is Vice-Chairman of the Committee came up with an oral amendment that would take out the figure of 30 MEPs need to form a group. Not a bad amendment as it happens, but irrelevant.
According to the rules if the report falls, then the report falls. What Kirkhope had done was to throw the federastic autocrats a lifeline. The debate continued slowly more and more socialists and Christian Democrats turned up.
Brian Crowley, the pro-European leader of the small UEN group was almost on his feet with outrage (given he uses a wheelchair no small feat in itself). Andrew Duff was slapping his hands together demanding to be heard. Hanne Dahl, Jens-Peter Bonde's replacement was being forthright in her opposition to the move. But Leinen and Corbett ploughed on, ignoring the rules of procedure and finally went to a vote. Crowley demanded that the Chairman justify this breach of the rule of law, Leinen just waved him away. Kirkhope meanwhile just kept on defending his amendment without, it seems realising that by doing so he was allowing the big two to escape their defeat. Of course seeing as (as has been pointed out by Richard North) this rule change is not about destroying UKIP or the small eurosceptic groupings but damaging the prospects of the Tories setting up a breakaway group, maybe this was deliberate on Timothy's part, he never having been a fan of Cameron's breached promise to leave the EPP.
The vote started, now an hour after it had started the big blocks had lumbered there members into position and were able to vote this through.
Today a letter was sent to the president of Parliament, authored by Andrew Duff and signed by representatives of the Greens, the Lib Dems, the UEN, the Ind/Dem and the Communists, I reproduce the text below. Interesting in the covering email Duff makes the point,
"I propose that we send the attached letter to President Poettering tomorrowHere is the letter in full,
I can see no point in referring it directly to Mr Leinen for the AFCO coordinators".
"Mr Hans-Gert Poettering MEP
We write, with regret, as the coordinators of the ALDE, UEN, Green, GUE and Ind/Dem groups about the conduct of the vote at the Constitutional Affairs Committee yesterday on the report by Richard Corbett concerning Rule 29 (formation of political groups).
The key substantive reform (change of thresholds for the formation of groups), contained in Amendment 1 of the rapporteur to Rule 29(2), was rejected. It is our view that all the three remaining amendments (Rule 29(2)(a)), which referred to transitional arrangements when a group falls beneath a threshold, should not have been put to the vote.
Rule 151(1)(a) says that 'No amendment shall be admissible if it does not directly relate to the text which it seeks to amend'.
In this case, the text the remaining amendments sought to amend had been defeated in the initial vote. Moreover, Rule 151(2) says that 'An amendment shall lapse if it is inconsistent with decisions previously taken on the text during the same vote'.
At first, the rapporteur sought to change the figures in Amendment 3 to accord with the status quo. This oral amendment was objected to by us under Rule 150(6). Even though the Rules of Procedure were eventually applied correctly concerning the oral amendment, the chairman then moved to vote Amendment 3 by three split votes.
Rule 157(1) clearly states that it is only where 'the text to be put to the vote contains two or more provisions or references to two or more points or lends itself to division into two or more parts each with a distinct logical meaning and normative value' that a split vote can be taken.
Unfortunately, in this instance the split vote mechanism was simply used to circumvent the objection to the oral amendment by taking out the precise figures for the threshold. This made no sense because the text without the figures was meaningless. It was merely a second attempt to achieve the goal which had previously been defeated. This also, therefore, was an abuse of procedure.
In view of these unhappy events, we are asking you, using your powers under Rule 19(2), to refer back to AFCO the Corbett Report on Rule 29.
It is, of course, especially important that AFCO, which is the rule committee of the Parliament, is seen to be scrupulous in its respect of the Rules.
Andrew Duff (Lib Dem Leader)
Brian Crowley (UEN Leader)
Johannes Voggenhuber (Senior Green)
Sylvia Kaufmann (Communist)
Hanne Dahl (Eurosceptic: Ind/Dem)